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EXPLAINED: Why does Spain bury a sardine to mark the start of Lent?

Each year across Spain at the end of carnival, funereal parades take place for the ceremonial burying of a fish. But why? Conor Faulkner investigates.

EXPLAINED: Why does Spain bury a sardine to mark the start of Lent?
A Spanish woman dressed in a widow outfit presents to children the sardine which will be buried on Ash Wednesday in Madrid. Photo: AFP

It is no secret that the Spanish need little reason to have a party, nor is the fact that many of their fiestas are born from bizarre traditions and myths.

The Spanish custom of “entierro de la sardina” is no different, and involves the ceremonial burying of a sardine to signify the end of the carnival season and beginning of Lent.

You may think that this is simply yet another example of the Spanish finding any old excuse for a fiesta – and in some cases, you may be right – but in reality the custom is steeped in history and religious meaning.

READ ALSO: Antisemitism row breaks out after Spanish town stages Holocaust parade for carnival

The ritual was immortalised by Goya in the 1810’s and is now celebrated across Spain and its former Latin American colonies; but what is “entierro de la sardina” and why do they bury a sardine?


El entierro de la sardina By Francisco Goya

In Spanish culture the sardine represents the past, and its burial signifies forgetting it, the long winter months and facing the future with renewed hope and optimism. What is buried will, it is hoped, resurface in a positive way in the future. The burial is often accompanied by a sardine themed parade of some description, usually involving a mock funeral procession on Ash Wednesday.

Music, dancing, beer, wine and tapas are enjoyed in the street as a final blow-out before Lent, and in some regions local men even crossdress and follow the cortege in stockings, dresses and wigs.

Figures of sardines are burnt to represent the symbolic destruction of all the hedonism and vice enjoyed during the Carnival period, and as a precursor to the forthcoming moderation of Lent. The tradition also has pagan undertones, as procession floats are often named and styled after mythological Roman figures like Apollo and Neptune.

As with many customs in Spain, however, things are slightly different down in Murcia. In some Murcian towns the sardine is buried before Carnival, not after, supposedly so the approaching self-restraint of Lent is not shocked by the decadence of Carnival; and in Murcia city the fiesta is on the weekend following Easter not Ash Wednesday, and stretches across several days of partying.

As with many quirky Spanish traditions, the ritual is both steeped in history and contested. Many believe the ceremony originally began with King Carlos III in 1759 when meat, not fish, was buried underground because it cannot be eaten during Lent.

Carlos had rewarded his hardworking servants with a shipment of sardines as a final gift before the start of Lent, but was shocked to find they had already gone off and, horrified by the smell, ordered that they all be buried in the nearby Casa de Campo park in Madrid. 

The burial was accompanied by a spoof funeral procession with whistling and grieving, and the ritual spread quickly across Spain and replaced various other festivals that celebrated the end of winter.

Others believe the origin of the fiesta comes from a group of 19th century Madrid students who, for some reason, decided it a good idea to stage thesatirical funeral procession of a sardine in order to represent abstinence and fasting. Whatever the origin, the entierro de la sardinais a typically Spanish event full of food, wine, dancing, music, mythology, religion and folklore, and is not one to be missed.

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New rules and laws: Everything that changes in Spain in July 2021

As the month of July kicks off in Spain, we take a close look at all the important changes that come with it, from vaccines to entry requirements, new VAT charges, car devices and more.

New rules and laws: Everything that changes in Spain in July 2021
Photos: Help Flash/AFP

Delta variant expected to become dominant in Spain 

Spanish researchers and public health officials believe the Delta variant of coronavirus, first identified in India, will become the dominant Covid-19 strain in Spain over the course of July.

On June 24th, the Delta variant accounted for four percent of the cases detected in Spain, three points more than the previous week.

In Catalonia, at least 20 percent of new cases are due to the Delta variant, the region’s health official Josep Maria Argimon told reporters at a press conference on June 17th, adding that it would be “predominant” in two to four weeks.

The Health Ministry has so far only officially recorded 62 cases of the Delta variant in Spain, but several regions have reported many more cases than this. Galicia has reported 25 Delta variant infections, while Castilla y León are investigating 83 possible cases. 

The variant has also been found in Andalusia, the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, the Valencian Community, Extremadura, Murcia, Navarra, La Rioja, Ceuta and Melilla.

READ MORE: How much is the Delta variant spreading in Spain?

Vaccines for thirty-somethings

In July, Spain’s vaccination campaign will focus largely on getting people in the 30 to 39 age group their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Many Spanish regions have already started inoculating those aged 35 to 39 towards the end of June, whilst Madrid has decided it will start allowing thirty somethings to book their vaccine appointments in July.

Administering second doses to those in their forties, fifties and sixties will also be a priority, especially for the latter group as only around 30 percent of the 60 to 69 age group have completed their vaccination treatment (roughly half that of people in their fifties). 

That’s in large part because the AstraZeneca vaccine has been reserved for this group and delivery delays and side-effect investigations have hampered its distribution. As a result, Spain’s Health Ministry has brought forward their second dose by two weeks. 

As of June 29th, 16 million people (35 percent of the population) have received their full vaccination treatment and more than half of the population (52 percent, 24.7 million people) have at least one dose.

To read all the latest vaccine news from Spain, visit The Local Spain’s Covid-19 section

Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

New travel entry requirements 

July 1st marks the start of the requirement for British travellers to Spain to show proof of full vaccination or a negative PCR test.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made the announcement on Monday June 28th with regards only to the Balearic Islands, but it has been widely reported that the requirement will apply to travel to all Spanish regions, to be confirmed in an official government bulletin on Tuesday. 

Conversely, Spain added the United States to the list of third countries that are exempt from presenting negative tests or vaccination certificates, meaning American travellers will able to visit Spain more easily during the month of July. 

To read all the latest travel news and information relating to Spain, visit The Local’s travel section

EU digital Covid pass launches

Still on the topic of travel, this digital ‘travel pass’ should make things a little easier if you’re venturing out of the country. 

The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate, as it’s officially known, launches across the bloc on July 1st, although Spain’s regions have made it available to their residents in June. 

In theory, people travelling from Spain to another EU/EEA country will be able to use their vaccination, testing or recovery certificates to get a QR code which allows for quicker and hassle-free travel in Europe. 

READ ALSO:

How to get a Digital Covid Certificate for travel from Spain to the EU

New VAT rules for imported goods

Imported goods with a value of €22 or less used to be exempt from tax, but this condition will be scrapped on July 1st across the EU. 

This means all goods arriving into Spain and other EU countries from non-EU countries will be subject to VAT, regardless of their value.

This EU-wide regulation will particularly affect businesses that import goods from outside of the bloc and people who shop online on international websites such as China’s AliExpress. 

If the goods cost more than €150 (not including transport, insurance and handling charges) you will also have to pay customs duty.

If businesses don’t register with the The Import One-Stop Shop (IOSS), the VAT will be paid by the customer when importing the goods into the EU. 

Postal or courier companies may charge the customer an additional clearance fee to collect this VAT and carry out the necessary procedures when importing the goods.

New device for cars in Spain

Back in January we reported how the warning triangles drivers in Spain have to carry in their cars in case of a breakdown are being phased out and replaced with these new emergency lights.

As of July 1st, drivers in Spain can use these DGT-approved V-16 emergency lights (luces de emergencia) instead of the warning triangles, although it won’t be obligatory to do so until 2026. 

Photo: Osram

VAT drop for electricity

The Spanish government’s bill to reduce the VAT on electricity from 21 to 10 percent in light of opposition to historically high rates comes into effect on July 1st.  

Last month we also reported how Spain’s main electricity access rates, the regulation costs of electricity which customers pay for, will no longer be frozen as they have been since 2018. 

The changes to the electricity rates means it has become more expensive to use electricity in the first part of the day from 10am – 2pm and in the evenings from 6pm – 10pm from Monday to Friday. The average times are between 8am – 10am, 2pm – 6pm and 10pm – midnight. 

READ ALSO: Spain’s new electricity rates for 2021 -the tricks to help you save up to €300 a year

July kicks off with a heatwave 

As is customary during the summer, July will bring suffocating heat to mainland Spain, with the mercury expected to hit 35 C in many areas. 

It hasn’t been a particularly scorching month of June in Spain but July is forecast to start with temperatures between 5 and 10 degrees higher than normal from Friday, the first heatwave of the year. 

That means that in parts of Andalusia and Murcia the temperature in the first weekend of July could be above 40 C. 

Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

Ten single-use plastics officially banned

As of July 3rd, changes to the Packaging Act will come into force. 

Manufacturers will not be allowed to produce food and beverage containers made of Styrofoam from July. Furthermore cutlery, cosmetic cotton swabs, balloon sticks, stirrers, plates, bowls and drinking straws will also no longer be made from plastic.

If retailers and restaurants have remaining stocks, they can continue to hand them out so that they do not end up unused in the rubbish bin.

According to the EU Commission, the products prohibited under the law represent 70 percent of the waste that pours into oceans, posing a threat to wildlife and fisheries.

Money for staycations 

Twelve autonomous communities in Spain are offering their residents – and in some cases people from other parts of Spain-  holiday vouchers worth hundreds of euros as an incentive for them to spend their summer holidays in their part of the country.

These offers are available for the month of July, so if you want to find out more click on the link below. 

TRAVEL: Which regions in Spain are paying residents to go on staycations?

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