Carnival is Sitges' most uninhibited popular fiesta. It starts on Jueves Lardo (which could be translated as Lard Thursday and would be equivalent to Mardi Gras
in other Catholic countries, aside from it happening almost a week before Ash Wednesday). With the arrival of His Majesty Carnestoltes and his critical-satirical commentary on public events of the town, the King gives his permission for unlimited fun and announces the beginning of carnival.
The highlights of the carnival festivities are the parades or ruas which are held on the Sunday (Rua de la Disbauxa) and on the Tuesday (Rua de l’Extermini). The children's parades take place in the afternoon while the adult parades are at night. There is great rivalry between the various groups that participate in the parades, especially between the Sociedad Recreativa el Retiro and the Sociedad Casino Prado Suburense, both of them centennial societies and with the same number of years of running rivalry. His Majesty Carnestoltes opens the Rua and the Reina del Carnaval (the Queen chosen among the contenders for the title in a public ceremony) brings up the rear.
Carnival ends and Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with the Funeral of Carnestoltes. The King is tried and sentenced to death and an effigy of his majesty is burnt. The townspeople can accompany him and his entourage to the Burial place where his testament is read.
It is a celebration bursting with colour and sensuality, with worldwide recognition and covered by national and international media. There are around 150,000 visitors to Sunday night's parade, 20,000 spectators to see the kids parade on Sunday afternoon and around 250,000 people watching Tuesday night's parade. There are around 2,500 participante grouped in 50 floats on Sunday and Tuesday night. The children's rua involve around 1000 kids grouped in about 20 floats.
Throughout the carnival week many activities take place in the cultural societies of El Retiro and the Casino Prado. His Majesty Carnestoltes visits schools and different parts of town during the day.
The fiestas close with the traditional Xatonades, the xató being a dish typical of Carnival. Its origins are greatly disputed by Sitges and its neighbouring towns which all lay claim to it. Sitges justifies its provenance with two different theories: one that says when Santiago Rusiñol saw the little mount of frilly endive, anchovies and olives covered in xató sauce, he exlaimed “oh, c’est un chateau!” and the other that states that when sailors returned home from Isla Cristina (Huelva), normally around February, when frilly endives are in season, they would prepare the dish with anchovies brought back from their fishing expeditions.