CarnivalCarnival is a typically raucous celebration observed in numerous countries around the world. With pagan origins, the festivities became part of Catholic pre-Lenten celebrations. Carnival moved globally, with celebrations blended with local and African traditions that influence the different forms of carnival that we now see. One of the biggest carnival parades and celebrations can now be found in Brazil, where Rio had become the central city of the samba, costumes, and revelry.

What is Carnival

Carnival is a festive season that usually precedes the religious period of Lent. Carnival is popular in societies with a large Catholic population and/or history. In Christian teachings, Lent represents the time Jesus Christ withdrew to the desert for forty days and night, where he fasted during that time.The religious usually observe Lent by fasting, for example, not eating any meat, alcohol and rich foods during this time. The word Carnival originates from the Latin phrase “carne vale” which means “farewell to the flesh”. Carnival represents a period of celebration before the fast and covers a period of several days and nights. Many carnival traditions involve street parades, costumes.

The Origins of Carnival

It is said that Carnival  originated from a Greek, pagan festival that honoured and celebrated the Greek god, Dionysus. The Romans also adopted the same festival in celebration of the God of Wine, Bacchus. During this time, slaves and masters would exchange clothes, and take to the streets in drunken revelry. With the rise and growth of the Roman Catholic church, the pagan holiday was adapted to pre-Lent celebrations. However, the mass celebrations of alcohol, music and dancing, food and indulging in vices, was not exactly what the Roman Catholic Church had in mind for Carnival.

African Influence on the Celebrations

In a number of former colonial countries, the presence of African slaves had a significant impact on the Carnival celebrations, that are evident up to present time. The European tradition blended with African traditions, and influenced the costumes used by revelers, influenced the music, specific festivities and dances. These influences can be easily seen in carnival celebrations held places such as Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and New Orleans.For example, samba, a hallmark feature of Brazil’s carnival, grew out of the slave yards in plantations. Another example sorrounds the crowning of a king and queen of the carnival in Brazil. The slaves in Brazil (many originating from the Congo) during the celebrations picked a king and queen to represent the king and queen of Congo. This of course carried on into modern traditions.

Carnival Worldwide

With the expansion of Portuguese, French and Spanish powers in territories outside of Europe, the influence of Catholicism and carnival can be found today in numerous countries around the world. The next sections will discuss the transformation of carnival and its celebrations in different countries. Carnival is well known globally in countries such as Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Trinidad and Tobago. The United States of America’s city New Orleans is famously known for its festivities which they call Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).

Carnival in Italy

One of the more popular carnival celebrations in Europe can be found in Italy. Like other locations, carnival or carnevale is involves a number of celebrations leading up to the Lent period. The biggest celebrations are on Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday.The celebrations take place over a number of city and towns around Italy. The first carnevale celebrations took place in Venice in 1094. In the 1600s, the celebrations became very popular in the city Rome. In Ivrea, the carnival has a unique feature: oranges. Known as the Battle of the Oranges, it represents the the battle between the people of Ivrea and the Napoleonic General Staff. People on foot (representing the citizens) throw oranges to people on carts (representing the Napoleon army) who also throw oranges. For two weeks prior to the Lent, public places become the centre of celebrations. People get dressed in unique costumes and masks. Musicians, acrobats and artists are seen everywhere adding to the festive atmosphere. People dress up like politicians and celebrities in a way of adding social commentary to the carnival. Viareggio has become one of the biggest and most popular scenes of the contemporary carnevale festivities. Here, parades are held over five weekends before Lent.

Carnival in the Netherlands

Most of the celebrations take place in the south. The city with the most popular and well-known carnival celebrations is Maastricht. The festivities occur for the week before the start of the Lent season. The beginning of the carnival celebrations is signalled when the Mayor of the city hands over the key to city to the Prince of Carnival. The Prince is a sort of jester and encourages the carnival spirit and fun. It is considered an honour to become the Prince of the carnival. Parades are a common feature, where people dress up in funny, strange and grotesque costumes, and even as caricatures of politicians and famous people. The celebrations in Netherlands in its modern form, gained popularity after World War II.

Carnival in Brazil

It can be argued that the biggest and most well-known carnival is the one celebrated in cities across Brazil, especially the city of Rio de Janeiro. The samba parades attracted thousands of people worldwide. The Mayor of Rio officially starts the celebrations with the crowning of the Fat King, also known as King Momo. The four day celebration is a unique combination of Catholic and African tribal traditions. Outside of the four days, much of the year leading up to the carnival is spent preparing in samba schools.. The samba schools serve as community centres where people come together to make their samba schools the best of samba schools at the end of the celebrations.The first recorded celebrations were in the 1700s. It was introduced by the Portuguese from Azores, Madeira, and Cabo Verde. Initially, people celebrated by playing with buckets of water and mud. In the 1800s, the celebrations became more organised and parades emerged. Aristocrats also started to join the festivities. Carnival balls became a popular feature. Soon it became more of a working class celebration with costumes and music. Samba schools emerged in 1928. The schools would develop themes that influenced their costumes, parade floats, music and dancing. In 1984, the celebrations moved from the streets to the newly constructed Sambadrome designed by architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Samba schools are divided into sections with unique and elaborate costumes. Each section performs a coordinated dance that is judged. The school judged with the best dances and costumes, wins. The floats in the parade are quite elaborate and spectacular. Costumes are intricate and beautiful. They are usually hand sewn with glittering beads, sequins, and feathers. Body paint and body glitter are used to complete the costumes. At the heart of the school’s parade, are the drummers. The drummers are the heartbeat of the activities, providing the rhythm for the samba dancers. The drummers are lead by the Queen. This person is usually a celebrity that has been asked to fill the role. The entire procession is led by a female flag bearer and her escort.

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago

The carnival season traditionally starts after the Christmas holidays in this twin-island in the Caribbean. It is marked for a two day street parade, on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Carnival was introduced here by the French in the 1800s. Initially, it was only celebrated by the plantation class. Slaves also used the celebrations as an opportunity to rebel. After emancipation, the newly freed slaves continued to use the carnival period as a form of resistance. The colonial powers tried to limit it by banning drumming, masks and dancing in the streets. There are a number of key activities around and during carnival:
-       The street parade which happens on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Huge bands of revelers in costumes dance through the streets. The bands usually follow a theme. The bands are judged and the best band is announced at the end of Carnival Tuesday.
-       J'ouvert is celebrated in the wee morning hours of Carnival Monday. Revellers dance in the streets, playing with mud, paint and sometimes chocolate.
-       Panorama is a key steelpan competition during this holiday. The steelpan is a musical instrument that was created in the 1930s out of old drums. Bands of up to one hundred steelpan musicians compete for the crown of panorama champion.
-       Dimanche Gras is the annual calypso competition held the Sunday before the main carnival celebrations.

Carnival in New Orleans

The most popular carnival in the United States in found in New Orleans. The feature attraction is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). In the 1830s the people of New Orleans held masked parades, carrying torches as they went through the streets on horses and in carriages. Soon the concept of the King of Carnival was introduced. The official colours of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. Purple means justice, gold is power and green is faith. The celebrations feature parades of paper mache costumes. Revelers wear the official colours and adorn themselves with beads and masks. Members of the floats throw trinkets to the crowds. These are usually beads, cups and toys.


Article written by: SarahAjaoud
Times read: 3314x
Added: 22-02-2017 19:55
Last modified: 21-06-2017 09:25

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