Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is stopped, yet it had dealt with adversity since 1778

Daytime Carnival in the Plaza de Candelaria

After many decades of celebration, the pandemic forces the suspension the Santa Cruz Carnival, though the party has been able to deal with adversity since 1778

"It does not seem prudent to deprive them of this party to which they are accustomed," the then mayor of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, José María de Villa, ended up understanding in 1814, showing an unexpected tolerance on the part of someone who, 11 years before, had prohibited masks, both in public and in private homes.

Villa was not the first nor, of course, the last representative of the established powers in more than two centuries who sought to stop the people of Santa Cruz from celebrating their Carnival, that libertine escape valve that compensates them for a whole year. Despite the repression or calamity, the people knew how to preserve this festival that was already recorded in 1778 and that has become the watchword of the city throughout the world.

Now, a microscopic but fearsome enemy, the coronavirus, which has turned everything upside down, has forced the suspension of mass dances in the street next year and, therefore, the Carnival itself. Something that even the Franco dictatorship did not achieve, and that puts an end to 83 uninterrupted years, given that it is necessary to go back to the harsh reality of the interwar period, in 1937, to find the previous suspension.

From the hand of the official chronicler of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, José Manuel Ledesma, we know of those first dances that the town's bourgeoisie began to celebrate in their homes while the townspeople had fun in the street. It was at the end of the 18th century and, as now, they had their reason for being in creating occasions for men and women to relate to each other. “The women -covered-, covering their faces with the clouds of their veils, approached the gallants to pedir la feria (ask for the fair), that is, to request a gift, which led to the beginning of a conversation. While the men - cloaked -, hiding their identity by turning up the collar of their cloak and under the shadows of the brim of their hats, took advantage of this moment to show their gallantry to the ladies ”, relates Ledesma.

The then developing Santa Cruz festival soon ran up against the authorities and, as dressing up in Carnivals was not well seen by the civil authority and even less by the religious one, in 1792, to avoid and prevent scandals, groups began prohibit this practice, a repression that, to a greater or lesser extent, threatened the Carnival practically until it became official in 1961 under the name of Winter Festivities.

This was the case throughout the nineteenth century, with examples such as the aforementioned mayor who, upon arrival, wanted to end these diversions and ended up assuming the unwavering popular will to maintain this festival. If Villa understood that "the person who disguises himself has never caused disorder, since the docility and restraint of the neighborhood of this town is well known, which is why it does not seem prudent to deprive him of this party to which they are accustomed", others like him General Commander Carlos O´Donnell (father of the former President of the Spanish Government, Leopoldo O´Donnell), did not get into the saga. Thus, when another mayor, Nicolás González Sopranis, asked the military to prohibit carnivals, they replied that "this is a peaceful town and it will be enough for some patrols to guard and keep order." This form of repression lasted until 1838, the year in which sanctions were hardened, details the official chronicler.

"In the early years of the twentieth century, the prohibitions were still maintained, but with a policy of tolerance, more or less enforced, while costume balls continued to be celebrated in societies, albeit behind closed doors". It is in 1931, in the middle of the Second Spanish Republic, when the Carnivals were finally declared Official Holidays of Santa Cruz, with for the first time a commission of Carnival Festivities. Wars came, which led to the aforementioned suspension of 1937, and the dictatorship, so that from the following year Carnival had to be celebrated clandestinely.

The level of repression depended on the civil governor on duty, but, Ledesma clarifies, "most of them, after publishing the relevant prohibitions, left the city with the excuse of an unavoidable trip to the south of the island", to the joy of the carnival goers in the capital.

Finally, the union of forces between another civil governor, Manuel Ballesteros, Bishop Domingo Pérez Cáceres and the head of tourism, Opelio Rodríguez Peña, ended up overcoming Franco's suspicion with the so-called Winter Festivities, a step prior to the great transformation of Carnival, which, with democracy, grew to be the great international party that it is today, and which it will continue to be despite everything.