Jan 242015
Dancing in the street during El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro. and painting up the town, have you ever wondered where that expression comes from?

Dancing in the street during El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro, and painting up the town, have you ever wondered where that expression comes from?


“El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro” is a similar type celebration and event to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This years theme is “La vida es un carnaval” or “Life is a carnival”. It felt like we just got past Christmas and several days of New Year celebrations here in San Pedro, when the town was already preparing for this annual event. It was held over a 11 days and began on Feb.07, 2015 with five ladies competing in “La Reina del Carnaval Pageant” or the “Carnival Queen Pageant”.

El Gran Carnaval Block Party

The following Friday the 13th (what could go wrong), the San Pedro Town Council hosted their annual El Gran Carnaval Block Party at the Central Park. The adjoining streets that were closed down to facilitate the event and there were culturally relevant music and dances held, as well as,  prizes for the best carnival inspired food, drinks, and souvenir booths.

El Gran Carnaval Masquerade Ball

On the 14th or Valentines Day the Masquerade Ball was held with the theme “be masked, be loved, be mine”. The admission is free and again there was music, free shots, and of course plenty of food and drink.

Traditional Comparsa and Painting in the Streets

From the 15th to the 17th there was traditional “comparsas”  (dancing) and painting in the downtown streets which were closed during these events as well. At first I thought that the painting was to spruce up the downtown area. However, I learned later that if you go there, you will get painted. Both children and adults parade through the downtown streets throwing eggs and painting anything not covered including each other. Also on the last evening the men dress as women and dance through the street in a display of role reversal.

El Gran Carnaval Finale

The festivities wrapped up at Central Park on last evening Ash Wednesday the 18th with the traditional burning of “Don Juan Carnaval” and reading of the Don Juan Carnaval Will.

Historical Origin of El Gran Carnaval

As I mentioned earlier, El Gran Carnaval reminded me of Mardi Gras, and although the history seems to be lost on most of the locals I asked, it appears to have arrived here with the settlement of the Spanish and the re-enactment of their celebration of the caraval of CadizThere is not much specific information about the origin of the individual customs on the internet or in local memory. In past times it was generally an opportunity for people to speak out against political and social injustice in a comedic way. The masks hid the identity of those speaking out tongue in cheek. The masks were later replaced with painted masks in Caribbean countries due to the heat, and the painting in the streets grew from there. It became a representation of lawlessness and things being opposite to the norm. Things being opposite to normal times is also represented by the men dancing in the streets dressed up in women’s clothes.

For an opportunity to experience this event for yourself, I have included one of my YouTube videos