For those with primary school age children in Catalunya, these names might sound familiar, but for others you’ll probably be wondering what it’s all about.
Carnestoltes is the king of the carnival. He arrives on the first Saturday of carnival to start the party proceedings and creates fun and madness until Ash Wednesday. Carnestoltes gives primary schools and nurseries some rules: for example, come to school wearing odd socks or pyjamas or with your nose painted.
On Ash Wednesday we say goodbye to Carnastoltes and he (his coffin) is burnt in the middle of the village. In our village in Maresme, his coffin was walked through the main street, surrounded by grieving women in black, and then set alight in the main square.
This is when la Vella Quaresme makes her appearance. The story behind it goes something like this:
“Carnestoltes, a wild party loving man, and la Vella Quaresme, a wiry, miserable woman, live in the same village. Carnestoltes decides to organise the biggest party the village has ever seen. They eat, drink and be merry for five days, until Carnestoltes is judged and condemned to death for his outrageous behaviour!
The village folk wake up to realise they have eaten and drunk the village dry. Being as miserable as she is, La Vella Quaresme didn’t join in the party, so they go to ask her for food. She says they can have food if they promise not to have fun for the number of weeks as she has legs. The villagers agree, thinking they could go two weeks without a party. But when she comes out of her house they realise they were duped, and that she has seven legs! And so we have the seven weeks of lent…. “
In primary schools up and down Catalunya, a large Vella Quaresme is displayed the day after Carnestoltes has gone away. Each week, for seven weeks, one of her legs is chopped off until she has none left, and we arrive at Easter weekend.
Easter Monday is celebrated with the Mona, hereby marking the end of lent. This is traditionally a chocolate covered cake decorated with feathers. Pastisseries (bakeries) also sell amazing chocolate sculptures, which are completed with figurines of the latest children’s film charactors or FC Barcelona players. Enjoy!!