Carnival lasts for four consecutive days in Panama, leading up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. One day of the event is observed as a public holiday.
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In the central plaza of many cities in Panama, Carnival opens up with public crowds of people voluntarily getting hosed down by “cistern trucks”. As Carnival comes in February and March in Panama, and these are Panama’s hottest months, everyone is eager to find a way to cool down. However, in the cooler highlands of Panama, Carnival is not so popular and no one wants to get all wet!
There are many colourful parades for Carnival, with floats, drums, trumpets, a daily theme for multi-day processions, and a beautifully decked out Carnival Queen being the major features. Food and drink are consumed in abundance at these events.
One unusual tradition of Panama’s Carnival season is the burying of the sardine. Just before sunrise on Ash Wednesday, when Carnival officially ends, the Carnival Queen leads the last parade. A sardine lies in a tiny coffin, and those in the procession behave as mourners.