I'm sure that many of you have heard about the different Carnival celebrations around the world. The most famous ones take place in Venice, Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans (which I'm sure you know as Mardi Gras). But some people have no idea of the origins or meaning of these colorful parades, in fact, today someone asked me "why do they all take place at the same time?". Well, actually they are supposed to take place only in this time of year.
Like many occidental traditions, the Carnival finds its origins in the Catholic religion (though some carnival traditions may date back to Roman times), but in order to explain it better, I need to talk a little bit about Lent. Lent is a period in the Liturgical calendar that takes place during the 40 days before Easter (usualy starting on the last days of February). During these days, no parties or celebrations can be held, because for the Catholics this is a time of penitence and preparation in order to commemorate the Death and Resurection of Jesus Christ. Nowadays, for many people the penitence or sacrifice consists on giving up luxuries or some tipes of food or drinks.
So, before Lent all the delicious food and great drinks can be consumed, and a little excess is allowed, and that's what Carnival is all about. It is the last chance to have fun, to enjoy the parties and dance like crazy (only if you are Catholic, of course). That is why the last day of Carnival is called Mardi Gras, Martedí Grasso or Shrove Tuesday, meaning that it's a day of excess or a "fat" day.
One of the best examples is the Carnival of Venice (in italian, Carnevale). There are records of this celebration that go back to the year 1094. This particular Carnevale has a very interesting history to which I would like to dedicate another blog entry.
The duration and ways of celebrating the actual Carnivals may vary depending on the place. For example, in Mexico, places like Veracruz and Mazatlán organise colorful and cheerful parades similar to the ones in Brazil. On the other hand, were I live people just get together to dance and sing around the streets with a music band and a "torito" (bull-shaped ornament).
Though the Carnival of Rio is the biggest one in the world, I prefer the Venetian Carnevale, with the masks and romanticism that characterize the Italian city. What do you reckon?