Compadres and comadres are two pre-carnival celebration days dedicated to something truly important: friendship!
While, nowadays, these dates are celebrated all over Bolivia with pool and disco parties, the traditional ones take place in Tarija - southern Bolivia - and involve special gifts, regional food and drinks, colors, parades, singing, and dancing.
A canasta to reaffirm friendships
In Spanish, the words compadre (male) and comadre (female) are used by parents to designate, respectively, the godfather and godmother of their children. However, in Tarija, people - without necessarily having children - use these words to usually refer to a person whose friendship they expect to keep for a lifetime.
To officially become the compadre or comadre of someone, it is a must to give a gift called "canasta." Those gifts are cane baskets containing seasonal fruits, vegetables, local bakery goodies, and regional drinks (optionally), decorated with balloons, flags, serpentine, and flowers. But the main item of the "canasta" is a big traditional sweet bread, called "torta," destined to sweeten the life of the recipient. Finally, with a roguish meaning, something essential for the canastas gifted to women is a big fresh cucumber, while the ones for men must include a pumpkin.
On the celebration day of Compadres, men are the ones who receive the baskets, while women need to wait until the celebration day of Comadres. To hand over a canasta, traditionally, people place it in their head and try to pass it to the head of the recipient, while a firecracker is lit up. Then you can start calling your friend "cumpa" (male) or "cuma" (female). To seal the friendship, called "compadrería" or "comadrería," the following year, the recipient must give back another canasta to the person who has gifted one the current year.
Finally, if a man has love feelings for a woman, but she does not have that kind of interest in him, the woman can gift a "canasta" to him, meaning that she wants him as a friend or vice versa.
Thursday of Compadres: songs and wine
The first celebration of the calendar is Compadres, on Thursday, the week before Carnival. That day, men meet in the Main Square of the city or in a place called "Campo de Los Compadres." Later, men join their closest friends to prepare a barbecue or a traditional dish called "chancho en cruz", accompanied by local wine and a regional distillate, called singani. But the party truly starts as soon as a guitar and a legüero bass drum arrive, because only then the compadres take out their entire repertoire of songs, that can surely last until the sunrise.
Campo de los Compadres
Thursday of Comadres: Flowers and joy
A week later, on Thursday (the carnival’s week beginning), Comadres is celebrated with even more pomp. That day the Central Market of Tarija is not only filled with canastas, but also with flowers that will adorn women's hair: “Rosa pascua” and “comadre” are the two most representative flowers of this festivity and this region.
Central Market of Tarija
Then, nearly 10.000 women (comadres) take over the city, singing and dancing in the streets, dressed up with typical “cholita chapaca” costumes, with bright and joyful colors, that make them resemble human-sized flowers.
Later, the celebration continues in several parties where any men trying to get in are kicked out. That is why, for women, the day of Comadres, is among the most expected and funniest days of the year!
In the city that boasts of having the friendliest people in the country, a huge celebration of friendship is almost a must. During Compadres and Comadres, you will discover funny traditions and a rich culture, while you will make lots of friends! And in the end, who knows, you might even find a compadre or comadre: a friendship for a lifetime!
Where to Stay for Compadres and Comadres
Tarija is filled with great accommodation options for your time to celebrate pre-carnival friendships. The choices are great quality yet still really affordable - so I selected my top favourite ones to recommend. For those who want a lively social scene where they are staying, check out Casa Blanca Hostel. There's BBQ facilities here, a library, a games room and you can book excursions on site. For those seeking something a bit more private but without breaking the bank, Hotel Carmen in the centre of town is a great choice. If you're looking for a spacious room at a hotel that's within walking distance to the celebrations, look no further than Hotel Victoria Plaza. You'll be able to experience the city and the celebration within minutes from leaving your room!
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