The carnival of the city of Panama was made official in 1910, but its beginnings are from the colonial era. At that time it was customary to dress up, which they have in common with carnivals in Europe.
The costumes were of characters from the colony, the king and queen of Spain, slaves, and soldiers. They paraded through the streets of the city recreating battles between them.
Years later, they began to choose the Carnival queens. Women, generally from high society, led the parades and competing groups.
Today in the carnivals a queen is still elected and parades are held with groups that represent different neighborhoods of the city and the city's multiculturalism. At night concerts are held where national and international artists participate.
The carnivals of the city and those of the interior have in common the "culecos". During the day the whole dancing crowd will be sprayed wet with water from tank trucks. At 30 degree celsius (85 F) that is a welcome refreshment!
In the traditional carnival inside there are two great "competitors", the Queen of Calle Arriba (upper streets) and the Queen of Calle Abajo (lower streets). The town is divided into two, and each group or "tuna" prepares for a whole year for this great festival. The practices of the tunes, making costumes, allegorical cars, fundraising, are some of the activities prior to the carnival.
Being a carnival queen is a serious and proud matter. It is not easy to be chosen as queen. First, the family must have a history in the town. If a grandmother or aunt was already a queen, it is easier, but it does not guarantee anything. Families must also be financially prepared to meet all the expenses that being queen entails. Some girls can start their way to be a carnival queen from a very young age, by being princesses of other queens.
The celebrations begin on Friday night, with the coronation of the queen. Then they take a ride in their luxurious decorated car, through the main square of the town. Meanwhile, behind each queen goes her "tuna", to the rhythm of the murga (a musical genre of Panamanian carnivals) singing songs against the other queen.
The next day the "culecos" are celebrated. On this occasion, the queens also go out in their decorated cars to go around the town, together with their guiding groups.
The closing of the carnival in Panama is celebrated at dawn on Wednesday. It is known by the name of “the burial of the sardine”. A dish that is very common among Panamanians, especially at the time of Lent that begins that Wednesday.
In Panama City, the public and the queens of the carnival come out crying and screaming, while a giant can of sardines goes ahead and they do the act of burying the sardine.
In the interior of the country, at 5:00 am, what they call “el topón” occurs. The queens of both streets meet in the central square of the town. Each one with her prickly pear dances and sings songs against the other queen. In the middle of both prickly pears, the fireworks start. There is a competition between which street launches more and better ones. Before 7:00 am, the queens walk through the streets again, thank their prickly pear and the carnivals are over.
Although this year due to Covid celebrations will be milder, it's something you need to experience at least once! And if you love it, many more times!