A manufacturing process that lasts for weeks and a lot of bright, eye-catching colours are the distinguishing features of the costumes worn by the Xenerais da Ulla. These days, the horseback characters, who are the hallmark of one of the most traditional carnival displays in Galicia, can be seen around the area, which is washed by the River Ulla.
More specifically, this original rural carnival is celebrated in the municipalities of A Estrada, Vila de Cruces, Silleda, Vedra, Boqueixón, Santiago de Compostela, Teo and Touro. It is a unique and deep-rooted tradition, two qualities that have made it one of the eight carnivals that have been declared Festivals of Tourist Interest in Galicia. Other celebrations featured on the list are the carnivals of Cobres, Laza, Verín, Xinzo de Limia, Os Felos de Maceda, Viana do Bolo or the Traditional Folión at the Carnival of Manzaneda.
Documented since the middle of the 19th century, xenerais (generals) and correos (couriers) are the main characters of this festival. They ride through various parishes on horseback as they chant and cheer, joined by an army of troupes and choruses. Although this carnival is slightly different in every area, there are common features, such as the ornaments on their attire or the performance of the so-called atranques (blockades) or altos (halts). These ceremonies consist of a dialectic battle between the different contenders. Since their childhood, the xenerais get tangled up in this struggle, where nothing and nobody seems to be safe from criticism: diatribes about politics, social and love affairs, as well as local current events have the audience roaring with laughter.
Chronicles by several authors have left evidence of this tradition: Alfredo Vicenti, García Barros, Neira Vilas or Bouza Brey wrote at length about this unique carnival, whose origin is thought to be linked to the various armed conflicts that took place in the area in the 19th century. Even the garments that these characters wear seem to be inspired by the military uniforms of that time. In the case of the xenerais, the distinguishing features are a peculiar three-cornered or two-cornered hat, adorned with feathers, and the elaborate ornaments worn by the horses, on their heads and on their chests. As for the correos, they wear a shirt, trousers and a tie, and their heads are capped by the so-called gorreta, a round hat with colourful beads on the edges. People hoisting flags, the king and queen and the choruses, which both young and old people participate in, are also part of the usual entourage of the Xenerais da Ulla.
When can you enjoy this tradition?
For a whole month, xenerais and correos will ride their way around the region of A Ulla. As far as the province of Pontevedra is concerned, you can enjoy the atranques and the comparsas (carnival troupes) in Lamela (Silleda) on 18 February at 6.00 pm. Merza (in Vila de Cruces) will pick up the baton on the next day, starting at 4.30 pm. You will have to wait until the next Saturday, 25 February, to hear the coplas again in A Bandeira (Silleda) and Cora (A Estrada), at 5.30 and 7.00 pm, respectively. One of the displays of the Xenerais da Ulla with the biggest audience is celebrated in A Estrada on Carnival Tuesday, on the occasion of the municipal Carnival, which starts at 7.30 pm. Salgueiros, in Vila de Cruces, is home to the last performance of xenerais and correos in the province of Pontevedra, on 5 March at 4.00 pm.