Carnaval is the week-long festival or party that precedes the forty-day Lenten period of prayer, reflection and penance before Easter. Lent is a very important time for Christians, particularly Catholics around the world. Santa Cruz de Tenerife (The Canary Islands) and Cádiz are the two largest celebrations of in Spain, although there are many lesser celebrations around Spain.
The rest of the world might focus on food on the Tuesday marking the end of Carnaval, called Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, but the Spanish chose a different day of the week. The Thursday that starts Carnaval, which is the week before Ash Wednesday is known as Jueves Lardero or Jovelardero, and is also known as Día de la tortilla (Day of the Omelete) or Día del choricer (Chorizo Day). Like so many holidays in Spain, this celebration differs from region to region, and even from village to village within the same region. What do all the celebrations have in common? It is a day to clean the pantry of meat and bread and to celebrate before Lent, by eating a meal as a community.
Although each region's celebration is slightly different, the common theme is the sharing of bread, chorizo and eggs. Some examples are:
- In Cuenca, Albacete and some parts of La Mancha whole eggs and chorizo sausage are baked into the bread, and called El Hornazo.
- In Castilla-Leon, they refer to the day with a rhyme, as Jueves lardero chorizo y huevo, (Larder Thursday, chorizo and egg).
- In La Rioja it is called Jueves de Todos (Everyone's Thursday) or Jueves de Judas (Judas' Thursday).
- In Soria, young people eat their merienda in the countryside, including mollete or pig's cheek. They also prepare a pastry called a pina or pineapple, made with flour and honey.
In both the Castilla-Leon and La Rioja regions young people are excused from school early, then traditionally carry a straw figure representing Judas, and go from house to house, asking for eggs, chorizo or money in order to make a meal. Neighbors sometimes ask the youngsters to sing a short song before giving them the food. (These songs are passed from generation to generation.) Then, the youth gather all the ingredients together and prepare a merienda or snack in the town plaza or municipal building to share.