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Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Why do we bury a sardine on Ash Wednesday to say goodbye to the carnival?

The sardine to be cremated in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 2019

For several days, costumes, dancing and revelry [usually] flooded the streets of half of Spain. However, on Ash Wednesday everything returns to normal after the Burial of the Sardine. But why do we bury this fish to say goodbye to Carnival?

The burial of the sardine is a Spanish ceremony that consists of a carnival parade that parodies a funeral procession and ends with the burning of a sardine-shaped figure. It is usually celebrated on Ash Wednesday and serves to put an end to the madness of Carnival and usher in the seriousness of Lent. Popularized from the 18th century, as it is such an old tradition, there are various theories about its origin.

According to popular legend, the fault lies with a shipment of sardines in poor condition that arrived at the Madrid markets during the reign of Carlos III (Charles III of Spain). Such was the stench that the king, fearing for the health of his population, had no choice but to order the burial of all the rotten sardines on the banks of the Manzanares River. Convinced by this theory, today the Brotherhood of the Burial of the Sardine in Madrid ends its procession at La Fuente de los Pajaritos in the Casa del Campo, since it is said that it was there that the sardines were buried.

Other historians, on the other hand, relate the party to Jerónimo Grimaldi, one of the last ministers of Carlos III who was curiously nicknamed "the sardine" because of his extreme thinness. It is said that Grimaldi left the city of Madrid around Lent and the people of Madrid decided to bid him farewell with a great masquerade.

Be that as it may, it seems clear that the tradition had its origin in the capital of Spain and from there it spread to other cities in the country and even Latin America. Currently, one of the most massive and famous Burials of the Sardine is the one held in the city of Murcia. However, it has some peculiarities since, for example, it is not used to say goodbye to Carnival but as part of the Spring Festival after Holy Week. 

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