Colour, costumes, dance and decadence are all hallmarks of modern day Carnival celebrations. However, it may surprise you to hear that Carnival has its roots in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. For most of us, religion would probably be the last thing on our minds while we’re dancing in the streets, drinking beer and perusing scantily clad revellers. Of course, there was method in the church’s madness.
In a nutshell, the pagan practice of Carnival was incorporated into the ways of the early Christian church to recruit followers. Carnival happens just before Lent kicks in, which is a period of abstinence leading up to Easter. Basically, Carnival was all about getting sinning and feasting out of your system before the 40 days of Lent began on Ash Wednesday.
Carnival celebrations bid farewell to the winter and welcome in the spring. They’re a worldwide phenomenon and can be found in a diverse range of countries, including Italy, Spain, Germany, Lithuania, Bolivia, India and the USA. However, each city has its own unique slant on the festivities, and that’s what makes it such a wonderful spectacle. You’ll never experience the same carnival twice!
Let’s take a look at a few of the most famous Carnivals from around the world.
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador
In Rio de Janeiro, Carnival is a very serious business. Dating back to 1723, Carnival in Rio is considered the world’s best and the five-day festival draws around two million partygoers onto the streets each day. During this time most businesses close and locals join the many street parties that pop up all over town. Of course, during Rio Carnival, the main event is the parade held in a grandstand called the Sambodrome, where the city’s 200-odd samba schools compete in spectacular, colourful, rhythmic fashion to be the parade winners.
Further north in Salvador, in Brazil’s northeast, Carnival starts a day earlier, so it lasts a bit longer, and instead of being focused around a main parade in a Sambodrome, it is comprised of a series of street parties where singers perform live on flat-top-trucks while hordes of locals dance behind. We hope you like crowds, because these parties, known as ‘blocos’, can be huge!
Carnival in Venice oozes elegance and style, with masquerade balls taking place across the city, while piazzas and waterways fill with decorated partygoers and decadent shows. Famous for its elaborate masks and historical costumes, Venice Carnival is thought to date back to the year 1264, when the Venetian oligarchy declared the day before Lent as a holiday and encouraged citizens to mark the occasion with celebrations and merriment. In order to elude the typical societal conventions of belonging to a particular gender, religion or social class, revellers wore masks – a tradition that continues to this day.
New Orleans Mardi Gras
It’s thought that New Orleans Carnival celebrations date back to the 1730s. Revellers dress in purple, green and gold – the event’s traditional colours, but also colours which have long been associated with the Catholic Church. In New Orleans, Carnival is all about the vibrant parades and floats, as well as the music and picnics. As floats glide along the parade routes, sweets and trinkets, like toys and colourful strings of beads, are thrown into the crowds. Bring a bag if you want to take them home with you!
Want to explore more within these vibrant cities? Head over to our CM City blogs on Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and New Orleans to explore a fine selection of boutique hotels, typical cuisine and many more thrilling events and tourist attractions.