Meeting Family in Zafra and Celebrating Carnaval
Celebrating Carnaval With My New Family
Carnaval has been one of the most anticipated timestamps in Badajoz for most of my local friends since I landed here. I’d been hearing all about how excited they were to celebrate Carnaval these past few weeks, and halfway into it now, I am quite pleasantly surprised by this cultural jamboree here in Extremadura. Simply put, Carnaval is a large festival where people dress up in costumes, conduct parades, eat meat, and perform dances and songs in groups. Carnaval lasts four days (Saturday to Tuesday), and it signals the beginning of Lent (Cuaresma in Spanish), which begins on the Wednesday following the last day of Carnaval (Tuesday).
This year for Carnaval, my host parents decided to take us to Zafra, a little town near Badajoz. Given Roberto (my host dad) is from Zafra, we spent the weekend in the town celebrating Carnaval with his family all dressed up in costumes. Our journey to Zafra began early Saturday morning as we all hustled to pack our bags and costumes, ensuring we didn’t leave behind our props, bags, and costume makeup. The drive to Zafra was about an hour long, giving Catalina, Carmen, and me plenty of time to take our routine car-selfies.
Upon arriving in Zafra, we first visited an ancient house that Roberto is restoring with his father; the house was beautifully located near an ancient tower that added to the scenery and provided for a beautiful picture background. We then went to Roberto’s parents’ house to change into our costumes and meet the rest of his family in the main town plaza. I decided to dress up as a character from the very popular series La Casa de Papel (“Money Heist” in the English-speaking world). My little sister decided to dress up as ninjas while the women collectively dressed up as geishas. Roberto could not find the costume he intended on wearing, so he dressed up as a sumo wrestler instead (this provided many laughs throughout the night as we ran into more and more people!).
Upon reaching the plaza, Catalina and Carmen were vivaciously running around, anticipating their cousins at any moment. Roberto and Laura had arranged to meet with two of Roberto’s cousins, so between the three sets of parents, there were six little kids! I remember meeting Roberto’s cousins and their husbands. Both of Roberto’s brother-in-laws were surprisingly impressed by my Spanish accent, consistently telling me throughout the day that I did not pronounce my words in Spanish as they had imagined an American would. One of them even told me that once I gained a higher level of fluency in the language, he would not be able to guess that I was not a native speaker based on just my accent! As we all convened in the plaza, I remember a few awkward moments where I had to explain to everyone that I did not eat meat (most people here are usually shocked when I tell them this). Given almost everything served in the plaza was meat, I lucked out finding the one shop that served vegetarian croquetas, fried dumplings filled with pumpkin and potatoes in this case.
After slowly eating lunch and talking in the plaza for a couple hours, we walked to a park with a lovely pastry shop so the adults could merendar (the Spanish tradition of eating a mid-afternoon snack) while the kids played. I ended up trying a tarta de galletas and a lengua chocolate, both very decadent chocolate-based pastries. After eating our snack, we decided to venture to the center of the town. By this point, the town was filled with people dressed in colorful costumes and there was loud music blasting through the plaza. We joined the parade for a few minutes before I was whisked away to the house of one of Roberto’s cousins so I could go out with some kids my own age to enjoy the festivities at night. I changed out of my La Casa de Papel costume and dressed up in a militar outfit, which was the theme of my friend group’s outfits for the night. I ventured out into the city with my new friends, and after quickly eating dinner, we found ourselves in the plaza yet again with a large crowd of people enjoying the blasted music.
I remember feeling so lost in the middle of the crowd, as all the songs were in Spanish and the loud atmosphere made me feel very overwhelmed. Quickly realizing this, Roberto’s niece escorted me out of the crowd a couple hours in, and I ended up spending the rest of the night with Roberto and Laura, who were dining with their friends. We ended up returning home very late after a long day of food and festivities. The last thing I remember was trying to remove all my costume makeup as quickly as possible so I could give in to the intense drowsiness that was overcoming me.
Sunday morning started off quite late, as Roberto, Laura, and I grabbed a special breakfast in a small café. We then picked up the girls, who had spent the night at their cousin’s house, and we decided to go to a beautiful flea market in Zafra. A few hours passed by quickly at the flea market before we decided to return home; my little sisters were incredibly sleepy, as they had been up playing with their cousins and barely slept the night before. Returning to Badajoz late in the afternoon, almost all of us were grateful for the Spanish siesta tradition, much needed at this point. I really enjoyed celebrating Carnaval in Zafra with Roberto’s family, enjoying the festivities, food, costumes, and music. More importantly, it was nice spending time with relatives and meeting new people; everyone was so welcoming, and I really felt like a part of my family here.
This was the Carnaval scene in my neighborhood on Tuesday. There was a huge parade with many different troupes performing different numbers.