‘Carnival’ is celebrated in many countries and whilst it has its origins in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths it draws on the hedonistic feasts of Ancient Greece and Rome as millions of revellers come together for one big party. The word ‘carnaval’ comes from the Latin carne valle which literally means goodbye to meat, as the festivals normally take place just prior to Ash Wednesday, the day of fasting and repentance that marks the beginning of Lent. Here are just a few of the world’s greatest carnivals.
The best known and biggest carnival is that held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Famous since the 1930’s, every year the parade of samba dancers in their elaborate sequinned and feathered costumes just seems to get bigger and more impressive. The celebrations take place between 13 – 16 February and start with the crowing of the Fat King who is given a giant silver and gold key by the city’s mayor.
Italy also celebrates carnival with a flourish and probably the best known celebrations take place in Venice, with its numerous masquerade balls and parties. Starting two weeks before Ash Wednesday the carnival ends on Fat Tuesday. Grand masked balls have given rise to the famous Venetian Mask which allowed participants to party without fear of recognition.
Our very own Notting Hill Carnival definitely deserves a mention. Staged for two days every August, this carnival has been attracting visitors and participants since 1965 and is now the second largest street event in the world. Originating from Trinidad, the calypso beats and steel drums draw in over a million visitors every year and 60,000 people take part, with dancers, floats and a general fun party atmosphere.
Once banned by the Spanish dictator Franco, the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival is one of the biggest in the world. It starts with an opening parade and the election of a Carnaval Queen. The Queen accompanied by her Maids of Honour is driven through the streets accompanied by ‘Murga’ in clown’s costumes. Mid way through the festival on Ash Wednesday comes the Burial of the Sardine, where a giant papier mache sardine is paraded through the streets and then burnt when they reach the harbour. The carnaval comes to a close with the Gran Cosa Apoteosis or closing parade, where eggshells and cloth balls held together with paste are thrown at the parade windows overlooking the route. Just about everything goes at the Santa Cruz carnival with participants often appearing in drag and festivities not starting until well past midnight!
And finally we can’t talk about the world’s greatest carnivals without mentioning Mardi Gras in New Orleans. A celebration of music and parades this carnival has a specific colour scheme of purple, green and gold, symbols to represent justice, power and faith. They take place for two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras in French. Truly one of the most spectacular carnivals in the world.
Sue Wright is an avid traveller and writer and has spent many years working with travel companies including Travel and Leisure Group. She has spent the last eight years living and working in Cyprus.