Carnival celebrations are back in full swing as February rolls around. We take a look at some of the most colorful and vibrant festivals in the world, from Rio to New Orleans to Venice. Anything goes!
The Origins of Carnival
Carnival is an annual celebration marked by street procesions, music, and dancing, as well as raucous reveling. “Farewell to meat” is the Latin name for “Carnival”, or Carnevale. It is the Roman Catholic practice of foregoing meat consumption (and butter, milk, eggs, sugar, and cheese) during Lent.
The Epiphany (January 6th) is the traditional start of Carnival season. Fat/Shrove Tuesday, one day before Ash Wednesday, marks the official beginning of the Lenten period. While traditions and customs may vary from one country to another, or even from one town to the next, one thing is certain: Carnival is fun!
Carnevale, or festa is an Italian festival that is enthusiastically observed across the entire Italian peninsula. Nearly every village and town will have children dressed as superheroes and fairytale characters, and throwing multicolored confetti ( coriandoli) at everyone in their path. The Venezia extravaganza, a 17-day-long celebration in Venice (Venezia), is the most famous and extravagant in Italy. Learn more about Venetian Carnevale Traditions right here.
Every winter, thousands flock to Viareggio to see the humorous yet cheery paper mache effigies that resemble celebrities, politicians, and other famous sports figures. Some can reach 30 meters (98 feet high).
For a full experience of the city, check out our article on Italian Carnival celebrations.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is as colorful and vibrant as Brazil, thanks to its celebrated Carnival festival. Rio’s Carnival draws millions each year and is undoubtedly the biggest (and most rowdy) fiesta on Earth.
Streets are filled with the vibrant vibrancy of Samba dancers in costumes, complete with wings and feathers. Many Samba Schools vie for the honor of being crowned Rio Carnival Samba Parade Champion during the Sambodromo parade.
Rio Carnival 2022 starts April 20th and ends April 30th due to the coronavirus. For more information, visit the website.
New Orleans Mardis Gras (Louisiana, USA)
Mark Twain, the undisputed champion of Carnivals in America, once stated, “An American has never seen the United States until he’s seen Mardi Gras, New Orleans.”
The carnival in New Orleans, Louisiana begins on the “Twelfth night” (January 6th or the Epiphany). It is an absolute blast. The jamboree’s much-anticipated finale is Mardi Gras, which features a parade of themed floats as well as jazzy marching bands that parade through the historic French Quarter.
The parade route is lined with “Krewes”, members of secret societies who create the floats. They toss trinkets at a crowd of people. Strings of plastic beads made from shiny glass, faux coins (doubloons), toys and cups are the most common “throws”.
Mardi Gras 2022 is Tuesday, March 1. Visit the official Mardi Gras New Orleans website for more information.
Take a tour of New Orleans with a local guide to experience the excitement!
Celebrations fill the streets of Spain’s capital, Madrid on Friday before Shrove Tuesday. Carnival de Madrid is a unique mix of Latin American and Spanish influences. It features a parade along Manzanares River and a masquerade ball.
Entierro De la Sardina, also known as the “Burial of Sardine”, is one ceremony that you may not be familiar with. This is the most well-known and wraps up the festival’s final day (Ash Wednesday). The funeral procession of fishes departs from Plaza de San Antonio de La Florida and winds its way through central Florida to reach the final resting place for the synthetic Sardine. A bonfire is lit in front of Plaza de las Moreras Fountain in Casa de Campo Park to expel evil spirits and promote happiness for the city’s residents.
Barcelona has a respectable Carnival ( Carnestoltes Catalan), but it is thought to be less important than other Spanish carnivals. Many people attribute this restrained behavior to Francesco Franco’s dictatorship and the Spanish Civil War.
Madrid Carnival, February 25-March 2, 2022. For a program of events go to the city’s official website Turismo Madrid.
Barcelona Carnival, February 24th to March 2nd, 2022.
Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
The unique Caribbean party, or fete, is held every year in Port of Spain, the capital of the dual-island nation. It features African Calypso and Soca music and steelpan music.
Technically, it is supposed to run through traditional Carnival, but in reality, the main gathering draws attention to the two-day street party that begins with the pre-dawn J’ouvert (French meaning “day opens”) The parade is scheduled for Monday before Ash Wednesday. It features participants covered in body paint, motor oil, and mud. — to welcome the dawn.
Tuesday’s festivities continue with a group of costumed marching bands. (If you are part in one, it is called “playing ma”). Dimanche Gras will be the final event of the day in which eight men (and eight women) from different costumed bands compete for the title of undisputed King or Queen of Carnival.
Trinidad & Tobago Carnival: February 28 to March 1, 2022. This site has a schedule of events.
Notting Hill, London
Although Londoners might not be often associated with Carnival, the Notting Hill Carnival was established in 1966 and has continued to thrive ever since. It is named after the Trinidad and Tobago Festival (see above) and pays tribute to the West Indies and Caribbean people who moved to the area following WWII.
It attracts nearly two million people annually. Perhaps the event was held in late August, rather than February or March. This is likely to allow for warmer temperatures and more traditional bikini-like costumes.
Events are planned for August 28, 2022 and 29, 2022. For more information, visit their official website.
The Canary Islands
The Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago located off the coast Africa’s west coast, are an archipelago. The islands of La Palma (and Tenerife) host two of the most exciting Carnivals.
Santa Cruz de La Palma residents love the Los Indianos parade. The Caribbean-inspired street party recreates the time when wealthy Cubans moved to the island in white, with straw hats in Havana style. After a night filled with laughter, there is a lighthearted fight over talcum powder. The Havanna-style straw hats and white dress up of Los Indianos. Image Source:
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is three weeks long and closely resembles its counterpart in Rio de Janeiro. You can imagine feather headdresses and bare-chested bodies dancing to the beat of Salsa and Samba music. It’s important that you book in advance as this is a hugely popular event.
Los Indianos Carnival.
Most historians agree that Carnival celebrations pre-Lenten predate Christianity. Croatia’s Rijeka Carnival ( Rijecki Karaneval) was believed to have been inspired by spring equinox celebrations of Serbian tribes who once inhabited the country’s northern region.
The third-largest port in Croatia, Rijeka hosts the biggest and most vibrant Carnivals in Europe.
Shrovetide usually begins on January 17th with a Feast of Saint Anthony the Great, a group of men wearing animal skins ringing Zvoncari bells. In 2009, the practice was added as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Following the display, there is the Queen Pageant, buoyant and mask floats, confetti-throwing, and even a children’s parade, in which almost 5,000 children participate.
Nearly a month later, the festival ends with a parade down the famous Korzo promenade on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The “Pust” is burned at the end, a puppet representing the eradication of all bad things in the past year.
Rijeka Carnival 2020 has been delayed until June because of the Pandemic.
The Carnival Foods: All about the Food
These are some pre-Lenten treats you should not miss!
Venice (and other parts of Italy)
- Frittelle . Deep-fried dough balls that can be served with or without the sweet cream filling.
Rio de Janeiro
- Feijoada . Slow-cooked pork dish, often served with rice and black beans. It is often enjoyed after a parade because of its heavy nature.
- King Cake. This circular brioche iced with purple, gold, and green would not be Mardi Gras. A tiny, plastic “Baby Jesus” is hidden inside. The “King” of the day is the one who finds the tiny figurine. He or she must bring the cake to the next Mardi Gras party.
- Chocolate Sardines. Many bakeries and pastry shops offer sardine-shaped chocolates, in cute tins, during Carnival.
- Botifarra de’ou. On Fat Thursday in Catalonia, this egg sausage is almost a must-eat.
The Canary Islands
- Rebandas de Carnaval (or Torrijas). Slices of old bread are dipped in milk syrup, wine, egg and then fried in an oven-proof pan. They are very similar to French Bread. Islanders often enjoy them with honey.
Trinidad & Tobago
- Doubles. Two pieces of traditional Caribbean street food consisting of channa (curried chickpeas) and fried bread. They are topped with cucumber, cilantro sauce, mango or tamarind juice.
Continue reading The best places in Italy to celebrate Carnival