Burial of the Sardine

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Burial of the Sardine (Entierro de la Sardina)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Between February 4 and March 10; Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent
Where Celebrated: Spain
Symbols and Customs: Sardine
Related Holidays: Ash Wednesday, Carnival, Easter, Lent


Burial of the Sardine is a Christian holiday celebrated in Spain. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

ASH WEDNESDAY is observed in Spain as Burial of the Sardine, with an event that pokes fun at Christian tradition. Ash Wednesday marks the end of CARNIVAL and the beginning of LENT, the forty-day period before EASTER during which the Roman Catholics Church prescribed fasting from meat. Thus, the mock funeral procession known as the Burial of the Sardine gives people a final chance Burial of the Sardine

to participate in the revelries of Carnival while displaying their true feelings about the church's "no meat" rule.

Although it is not certain when this event was first observed, the Spanish painter Goya saw it take place in Madrid in the early nineteenth century and used it as the subject for one of his paintings. It may be linked to a historical event-when a shipload of sardines sent to the court of King Carlos III (1716-1788) arrived spoiled, and the smell was so offensive that he said they should be buried immediately-or it may be a replacement for a much older custom, the burning or drowning of a straw effigy representing the spirit of Carnival. It clearly began as a way of mocking the church: People would dress up like priests and nuns and form a funeral procession, carrying ordinary household objects in place of the church's religious paraphernalia and burying a sardine (or a dummy holding one in its mouth) as a way of thumbing their noses at the fast.

Originally the funeral procession featured a real sardine, but nowadays it is usually made of wood, plastic, or papier-mâché. It sits in a coffin accompanied by mourners wearing black, many of whom engage in exaggerated displays of grief. The procession winds its way through the streets (with frequent stops at local taverns) and ends at a city square or a local beach. A man dressed up as a cardinal reads a make-believe "last will and testament," and then the sardine is set on fire, or sometimes thrown into the water or buried in the sand. There may be fireworks and music after the ceremony is over, and the mourners often dance over the burned remains of the sardine. Sometimes canned sardines are handed out to remind people what they should be eating during Lent. After the ceremony is over, people usually attend Ash Wednesday services at their local church, where the priest marks their foreheads with ashes as a symbol of penitence.

The fact that Lenten practices are no longer taken as seriously as they used to be has deprived this event of much of its original intention. It has survived primarily as an opportunity to participate in one last celebration before the more somber mood of Lent sets in.



The sardine or fish symbolizes the dietary restrictions of Lent. The burial of a fish was originally a protest against the Catholic tradition that fish be eaten instead of meat throughout the forty-day period. Nowadays, when meat is only forbidden on Fridays, it serves as a reminder that the worldly pleasures of Carnival must be put aside. Sometimes a sausage link or a strip of pork is substituted for the sardine, which would seem to underscore its more recent use as a symbol of Lenten requirements (no meat on Fridays) rather than as a mockery or protest against these requirements.


Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.


Tenerife Tourism Corporation www.webtenerifeuk.co.uk/PortalTenerife/Home/Home.htm?Lang=en Burial of the Sardine
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Burial of the Sardine

Between February 4 and March 10; Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent
The custom of burying a thin slice of meat, nicknamed "the sardine," on Ash Wednesday is common throughout Spain and is thought to have originated in an old fertility custom symbolizing the burial of winter in early spring. The Entierro de la Sardina also symbolizes the burial of worldly pleasures and serves as a reminder that people must abstain from eating meat on Fridays throughout the 40 days of Lent. After the burial is over, people attend Ash Wednesday church services.
Another Spanish custom is to make a figure of an ugly old woman out of stucco or cardboard or figures representing the King and Queen of Carnival and to burn or drown these personifications of Carnival on Ash Wednesday or Shrove Tuesday.
See also Carnival in Panama
BkFest-1937, p. 299
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 82
EncyEaster-2002, p. 52
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 49
FestWestEur-1958, p. 194
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
Hacia el final de la obra aparece "una gran comparsa-muy semejante a la titulada por Goya El entierro de la sardina, y con ellos llevan un estandarte "en el que abre sus alas un grotesco avechucho-entre aguila y buitre" e incluye el rotulo "!Muera el buitre carnivoro!' (191).
La pintura es El entierro de la sardina (1812-19), y muestra el desfile que clausura el carnaval del calendario catolico.