Carnivals

Carnival is a festival held 40 days before Easter. It reaches each peak in the party organized before Ash Wednesday. Like so many traditions of modern time it has pagan origin which was incorporated into Christian traditions. Carnival is typical for Roman Catholic communities but it also exists among Orthodox Christians. It is not so common in predominantly Protestant Christian communities.

Carnival is an event where there are no rules, where for a short period of time everything is allowed. Italians have a saying “A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale” or in English “Anything goes at carnival”. The biggest and most famous Italian carnivals are those in Venice, Viareggio and Acireale.

Carnival in Venice, Italy (Giorgio Minguzzi, 2010)
Carnival in Venice, Italy (Giorgio Minguzzi, 2010)

The tradition of carnival in Venice was revived by the Italian government in 1970s. About 30,000 people participate in the Venetian carnival. In 2013 it will be held from the 2nd to 12th of February. The carnival is known for its beautiful masks. There are five types of traditional Venetian masks - “Bauta”, “Columbina”, “Medico Della Peste” (“The Plague Doctor”), “Moretta” and “Volto” (“Face”) or “Larva”.

On the 9th of February, 2013 there will be “Il Ballo del Doge” or “The Doge's Ball”. It is a costumed ball organized in Palazzo Pisani Moretta. It was first held in 1993. For over 1,000 years the Doge was the highest ranked official in Venice or Venetian Republic, as it was also know.

Palazzo Pisani Moretta is a beautiful 15th century palace located along the Grand Canal. Some 400 masked politicians, business people and other exclusive guests participate in the ball. Each year the ball has certain topic or motive. In 2013 it will be “It’s all about… Amore”.

Carnival float in Viareggio, Italy
Carnival float in Viareggio, Italy

Viareggio is a town located on the coast of Tuscany. Local carnival is especially famous for its parades of numerous allegorical floats made of “paper maché”. Parades are organized on the three Sundays before the Shrove Tuesday, on the Shrove Tuesday itself and on the following Sunday. You have to pay to observe the event.

The carnival in Acireale is the the biggest one on the island of Sicily. Similar to Viareggio this carnival includes a parade of allegorical floats. The carnival also has different music competitions, chess tournament and big fireworks at its ending.

Maltese carnival (in Maltese il-Karnival ta' Malta) is almost 500 years old. It starts with the ancient sword dance called Parata. It commemorates the victory of the Maltese over Turks in 1565. Perlini and prinjolata are two delicious cakes eaten during the carnival. Kukkanja (Cockaigne) is the traditional game played on the Carnival Monday. It has been part of the carnival since 1721. People gathered at the local Palace Square try to find hams, sausages and live animals hidden behind branches outside the guard house.

Carnival in Cologne, Germany
Carnival in Cologne, Germany

People all over Germany love their carnivals too. Cities famous for their carnival parades are Mainz, Bonn, Dusseldorf and Aachen. Still, the number one event is the one in the city of Cologne. Two main characters are the “Prinz” (Prince) and “Prinzessin” (Princess). They have their own uniformed soldiers known as the “Prinzengarde” (Prince's Guard). They wear early 1800s style uniforms. They are not ordinary soldiers. They often do not act according to orders. They also fill their rifles with flowers.

The Carnival in Cologne is a very old one. There is a medieval document from 1341 mentioning the event. It has its “Dreigestirn” or “Three Stars”. Characters making this group are the Carnival Prince (also known as “His Craziness”), the “Bauer” (Peasant) and the “Jungfrau” (Virgin). The Virgin is always a man. Its 11 members are chosen in October. It is not simple as there are 105 historical carnival groups in the city of Cologne.

Dreigestirn
Dreigestirn

“Rosenmontag” (“Rose Monday”) is the Shrove Monday before Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent. On the Thursday prior to Rosenmontag Cologne is the place for “Weiberfastnacht” (Women’s Carnival Night). On this Thursday women have the right to cut off the tie of men they meet. They can kiss them if they want. After this event there are 5 days of some 50 processions. The final and biggest one is on the Rosenmontag. Some 1.5 million people participate in this parade. Big stars of the parade are female acrobatic groups called the “Mariechen”.

Swiss city of Basel has a big carnival too. Masked performers in this city are organized in special groups knowns as “cliques”. The most famous character of the carnival is “waggis”. He represents funny French Altasian peasant that used to sell his produce in Basel. He throws "räppli” (confetti).

Waggis
Waggis

Danish people love carnivals too. They call it “fastelavn”. This word is actually an import from the Northern Germany. People there use word “fastelavend” or “fastelabend”. Fastelavn is organized on Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday. Several traditions are observed on local carnivals. The famous one is "hit the cat out of the barrel" (in Danish “slå katten af tønden”). A wooden barrel is filled with candies and oranges. There is a cat picture on the barrel. In the past real black cat was put in the barrel. People used to beat the barrel as they believed that their action is going to protect them from evil spirits. Today people beat the barrel to bring all of its content out. The beating continues until the barrel is completely destroyed.

Fastelavnsbolle
Fastelavnsbolle

No festivity is complete without some delicacies. Danish carnival is known for the Fastelavnsbolle (in English Fastelavn buns) or “Shrovetide Bun”. It is often made with cream filling. In the past young men gently whipped young women with a bunch of twigs covered with buds. These bunches are called “Fastelavnsris”. This tradition has its origin in an ancient fertility rite. Nowadays Fastelavnsris are used only by children on their parents. As a reward for their act they get a Fastelavnsbolle.

The most famous Lithuanian carnival tradition is known as the Užgavėnės (in Lithuanian “the time before Lent”). It is held on the Shrove Tuesday. Everything starts with a parade after which the winter dummy called Morė is burnt. A big fight between Lašininis (symbol of winter) and Kanapinis (symbol of spring) is organized. Kanapinis wins the fight.

Užgavėnės
Užgavėnės

Many other characters like devils, witches, goats appear during festivities. Pancakes are eaten. Some people believe that their round shape symbolizes the arriving spring sun. Very good place to observe Lithuanian carnival traditions is the open-air ethnographic museum in the village of Rumšiškės which is located east of Kaunas.

Port city of Rijeka in Croatia has a big carnival too. First carnivals in this city were organized about a century ago. The carnival was reborn in 1982. Several events are held before the main parade. The city mayor gives the symbolic key of city to “Meštar Toni” who during the carnival rules the city. He is also manages the carnival itself. The carnival Queen is elected on the same day. Special carnival ball is held in the Governor's palace. Many foreign diplomats, local politicians and other famous personalities attend the ball.

Carnival in Rijeka, Croatia
Carnival in Rijeka, Croatia

You must not miss the wacky rally Paris – Bakar. The rally includes all sorts of weird vehicles. It is driven between part of Rijeka called Paris and nearby medieval town of Bakar. Children carnival is also held before the main event. The big parade is organized on the Saturday before the Ash Wednesday. It includes over 100 groups of participants. More than 100,000 people observe the parade. The parade ends with the arrival of famous carnival group known as “Halubajski zvončari”.

Some of Spanish most popular carnivals are those in Cádiz, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tarragona, Badajoz and Bielsa. Carnival in Cádiz is famous for its different groups. The “chirigotas” are groups who sing funny songs and criticize local politicians and other public personalities. The “comparsas” are groups typical for their polyphonic style of singing. Many comparsas participate in the competition organized in the Teatro Falla in Cádiz.

Chirigota group in Cadiz, Spain
Chirigota group in Cadiz, Spain

The “coros” (choirs) are bigger groups on carts. They are accompanied by a group of musicians playing guitars and lutes. The most famous song they are performing is called the “Carnival Tango”.

Like all other carnivals the event in Spanish town of Bielsa (Huesca, Aragon) involves some rather strange characters. Tranga is a man dressed in sheepskin, chequered shirts and skirt. His face is blackened. On his head he has big horns. He also has big bells tied to his waist.

All trangas carry a wooden stick. It is believed that by kicking the floor with this stick seeds are encouraged to sprout. In the evenings tranga men are joined by local single women known as madamas. They dance at the main town square.

Other characters participating in the Bielsa carnival are garretes (animal tamers) with onsos or osos (bears), amonato (old woman made of cardbaorad), caballe (man on a cardboard horse) and goluchos. On the third day of the carnival a doll called el Cornelio is burned. This act is seen as fight against bad luck.

Carnaval Marinero (in English Sailor Carnival) is held in a coastal town of Santoña, Cantabria located in the north of Spain. The first Carnaval Marinero was organized in 1934. Many participants in this carnival wear fish costumes. Special attraction is the "Trial at the bottom of the ocean" where the besugo is trialed and then burned. Word besugo means a fool. Besugo is also type of fish.

The carnival in Nice, France lasts during two weeks before the Lent. In 2013 it will be held between the 15th of February and 6th of March. About 100,000 people observe the event. It has a very long tradition. The first local carnival was organized in 1294. The carnival procession includes 20 floats with more than 1,000 musicians and dancers. In 2013 the theme of the carnival will be “King of the five continents”.

Notting Hill is the part of London located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is especially famous for is carnival held each August – on the bank holiday Monday and on Sunday before it. The carnival was first organized in 1964. The main power behind it is the local West Indian community. Almost 2 million people arrive at the carnival.

For quite many people carnival is one of synonyms for Brazil. Brazilian state of Pernambuco is especially famous for its big carnivals. According to the Guinness Book of World Records the biggest carnival parade in the world is “Galo da Madrugada” (“Rooster of Early Hours”) which is held in the city of Recife. Some 1.5 million people participate in the carnival. Two main music styles perfromed at this event are “frevo” and “marcatu”. The “Hino da Galo” (“Hymn of the Rooster”) is the carnival anthem.

The most famous Brazilian and world carnival is the one in Rio de Janeiro. It starts on Saturday preceding the Lent and ends on Fat Tuesday. Its biggest attraction is the fascinating parade of samba schools down the Sambadrome (in Portuguese "Sambódromo"). Tourists can also join one of the schools. Costumes are available for some 500 US dollars. Some 30 big samba schools exist in the city. The best of them are Beija Flor, Grande Rio, Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Mangueira, Mocidade, Portela, Porto da Pedra, Salgueiro, Unidos da Tijuca, Vila Isabel, Uniao da Ilha and Sao Clemente.

Parade of samba schools down the Sambadrome
Parade of samba schools down the Sambadrome

Preparations for the carnival begin some 8 months before it. Each school has to choose the theme for their costumes but also their annual carnival song. Costumes and the float are designed by the school's carnival designer (“carnavalesco”). The biggest and most special carnival costumes are worn by the elected school members known as “destaques”. School members on the float are accompanied by the percussion band (“bateria”). The bateria includes about 300 people. Just behind the band there are vocalists. Every school has a group of its best dancers. These 15-20 Samba dancers per group are called “passistas”.

The parade is actually a competition. Samba schools are judged in 10 categories like for example costumes, harmony, samba song etc. There are 4 judges in every category. The judge can give scores from 5 to 10 (10 is the best). The scores are counted on the Ash Wednesday. Before leaving the Rio carnival let's mention that the parade also includes about 200 smaller samba groups called “blocos”.

During carnivals in Peru it is tradition to put various presents on a tree. In the Peruvian highlands this tree is called "yunza". In the jungle areas people call it "umisha". In the coastal area it is known as "cortamonte". People dance around the tree. Then it is cut. The couple that makes the final cut organizes this ritual next year.

There are numerous carnivals in all parts of the Caribbean. Let's mention only the one organized in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The local carnival is held on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before the Lent. The events on these three days are “Dimanche Gras” (“Fat Sunday”), “J'ouvert”, and “Mas” (“masquerade”).

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago
Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago

Dimanche Gras, as it's name says, is held on the Sunday. It is the day when the Calypso Monarch is chosen. Each band chooses its King and Queen. They later lead their groups in other two carnival days. At the end of carnival King and Queen of the whole event are chosen.

“J'ouvert” ("Dirty Mas") starts before dawn on the Monday (locals call it Carnival Monday) before Ash Wednesday. Carnival bands prepare themselves for the parade. They check their costumes, practice choreography etc. Very popular characters of that day is called “Jab-jabs”. They are red, black and blue devils. King and Queen of the J'ouvert are chosen too.

Tuesday is a day for the big thing. It is time for the “Mas” (“masquerade”). Each band wears costumes chosen according to a certain theme. Bands pass down the carnival track. Judges are located at several places. After that carnival bands arrive at the Queen's Park Savannah. Final judgement of the bands is done there. On the same day the Road March King or Queen are chosen. On the Ash Wednesday people usually go to one of local beaches. The most popular ones are Maracas beach and Manzanilla beach.

Carnival in Cape Town, South Africa is organized on the 3rd Saturday in March. In 2012 it was held on the 17th of March. In 2011 the carnival included participants from 6 South African language groups and guests from Kenya, Cameroon, Canada, the UK and Germany.

Every year about 60,000 people watch the magnificent carnival parade. The parade is set in the Long Street. It includes members of 11 carnival academies with about 2,000 dancers and 11 big floats. Carnival academy consists of about 150 performers. All academies have their own king, queen and 6 special lead dancers. They are all judged. The best of them win special prizes.

Calabar Carnival is held on the 26th and 27th of December in the city of Calabar (Cross River State) located in the southeastern Nigeria. This carinval represents the peak of the Calabar Festival organized between the 30th of November and 1st of January.

The carnival parade includes 5 competing bands (Bayside, Freedom, Masta Blasta, Passion-4 and Seagull Band) and 10 non-competing bands. Big bands include about 10,000 people each. The parade is set on the 12 kilometers long route. It finishes at the UJ Esuene Stadium. "Band of the Year" prize is given in various cathegories.

The most famous carnival in the USA is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) organized in New Orleans. Traditional colours of this carnival are purple, green and gold. They were chosen in 1872 by the Russian Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch Romanoff during his visit to New Orleans. Local carnival season lasts for about two weeks before Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, U.S.A.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans, U.S.A.

The biggest parades are those on the last 5 days. They traditionally follow the route along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street which are located in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Parades are organized by the Carnival “krewes”. People standing on krewe float traditionally throw different object towards the audience. These objects are necklaces made of colourful beads, “doubloons”, cups and small toys. Doubloon is a special coin made of wood or aluminium with krewes' logo on it.

The Winter Carnival is a lovely Canadian festival held in Quebec City, Québec. The festival is organized on the last weekend in January and on first two weekends in February. It includes numerous attractions like ice sculptures, dog agility competition on snow, giant table soccer game etc. Most of these attractions are set on the historic Plains of Abraham located within The Battlefields Park. The carnival mascot is “Bonhomme Carnaval”. This huge snowman is wearing a red hat and a belt. He has the group of knights known as “knucks”. In 1955 Bonhomme Carnaval got his palace. Since 1973 this ice palace has been located opposite the Québec Parliament.

Bonhomme Carnaval
Bonhomme Carnaval

No description of the Winter Carnival would not be complete without the festival beverage called “Caribou”. The Caribou is made of red wine and whiskey (sometimes brandy or rum). This two components are added in proportion 75% and 25% respectively. The drink is sweetened with maple syrup or sugar. To enrich the flavour, makers of this drink also add some cloves and nutmeg. Participants of the carnival traditionally carry their Caribou drink in hollow plastic walking canes.