The word "Carnival" refers to the numerous festivities that occur in many Catholic cities every year prior to the Lenten season. These festivals often last several days or weeks and are widely popular celebrations of local history and culture. Residents and visitors prepare for Carnival festivities throughout the year. Revelers both young and old can enjoy numerous organized activities or party in the city streets with their families, friends, community members, and strangers.
Religious and Historical Significance of Carnival
Lent is the Catholic season that represents the forty days prior to Jesus' death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which usually falls in February. On certain days of Lent, Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat as a physical and spiritual reminder of Jesus' sacrifices. The word "Carnival" likely originates from the Latin term "carne levare," or "to remove meat." On the day before Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday,") many Catholics ate all of the meat and fat in their homes, and held large parties in the streets as one last celebration before the penitential Lenten season. It is a time when all social classes could disguise themselves, congregate, and forget their usual tribulations. Carnival originated in largely Catholic Southern Europe and spread to the Americas during the age of exploration and colonization.
Carnival Traditions, Similar and Distinctive
|Carnival in Venice, Italy|
Photo credits: flickr
What follows are some of the world's most famous and popular Carnival celebrations.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
|photo credits: myclipta|
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana is home to Mardi Gras, the most popular Carnival in the United States. Dozens of social clubs, called "krewes," parade through the streets of New Orleans over a six week period. The people on the floats or on horseback throw small presents to the spectators, such as beads, plastic cups, and stuffed animals. Revelers party in the city's French Quarter. Mardi Gras still occurs annually, even after Hurricane Katrina impacted the city in 2005.
Trinidad and Tobago
The two small islands of Trinidad and Tobago are known for having the best Carnival in the Caribbean Sea. Trinidad's Carnival has been influenced by African cultures due to the slave trade hundreds of years ago. On the two days before Ash Wednesday, revelers dance in the streets to the sounds of calypso music and steelpan drums.
Since the 12th century, Venice's Carnival has been well known for intricately created masks and masquerade balls. Throughout history, Venice's Carnival was banned numerous times, but since 1979, the event has occurred annually. Many events occur in the city's famous canals.
Additional Carnivals in the US
Although New Orleans has the most visited Mardi Gras in the United States, some smaller celebrations include those in:
· Mobile, Alabama
· Biloxi, Mississippi
· Pensacola, Florida
· Galveston, Texas
· Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Shreveport, Louisiana
Additional Carnivals in Latin America
Besides Rio de Janeiro and Trinidad, many more cities in largely Catholic Latin America celebrate Carnival. These include:
· Salvador, Recife, and Olinda, Brazil
· Oruro, Bolivia
· Buenos Aires, Argentina
· Mazatlan, Mexico
· Some cities in Colombia, Uruguay, Panama, and the Dominican Republic
Additional Carnivals in Europe
Many more cities still celebrate Carnival on the continent where it originated. These include:
· Torres Vedras, Portugal
· Viareggio, Italy
· Tenerife Island, part of Spain's Canary Islands
· Cadiz, Spain
· Binche, Belgium
· Cologne, Germany
Carnival Entertainment and Imagination
The activities of the Carnival season, developed over centuries from religious and cultural rituals, have become enormously popular in several cities around the world. Large crowds congregate in the streets to enjoy the extravagant parades, rhythm of the music, and colorful costumes. It's an exciting, creative spectacle that no visitor will ever forget.
in About.com > Geography > Education (slightly adapted)