Friday, February 20, 2009

Carnival Celebrations Around the World

During January and February, festive Carnival celebrations take place in many countries around the world. The most famous Carnival traditions that include masquerading and holding extravagant parades can be traced back to medieval Italy and are rooted in Roman Catholicism. Historically, Carnival has been held in the days leading up to Lent, which is the forty-day period of fasting and prayer before Easter. Although the true origin of the word Carnival is disputed, it is thought that the word comes from the Italian phrase, carne leavre, or “remove meat,” which refers to the abstention from eating meat during Lent.

Today, many carnival celebrations are fusions of new and old traditions. All across the globe the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia come alive with dynamic festivities of self-expression. Let’s take a look at a few specific celebrations.

Carnival of Venice, Italy

The Carnival of Venice, Italy is a spectacle of bright costumes and masks that dates back to the 1268. Nowadays during Carnival, crowds gather in the central Piazza San Marco and weave around the bridges and footpaths along the canals. There are street-performers, singers and entertainers throughout the city. There is no actual parade for Carnival, so anyone can join in the masquerading. The 2009 Carnival will take place from February 13 until February 24.

In the past, this celebration took place between Christmas and Strove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It was also much larger and boisterous with bull-fights, bear fights and even secret assassinations in the gondolas. This holiday was a chance for people from all classes and walks of life to wear flamboyant costumes and masks.

Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro has been called “the biggest show on Earth” and is perhaps the world’s most widely recognized Carnival. It draws crowds of millions every year. This celebration in Brazil originated in Rio de Janeiro back in 1641 and the festivities vary depending upon the region.

The Carnival in Rio is a fusion of European, African and Native elements and consists of organized parades full of dancing and singing. There are Samba Schools that compete in shows in the Sambadrome and also groups of people often from the same neighborhood, called blocos, who dress in elaborate costumes and sing and dance in almost every corner of the city.

Winter Carnival, Qu├ębec, Canada

Winter Carnival is world’s largest winter celebration and the third largest Carnival after Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. With over one million participants, it begins at the end of January or the beginning of February and lasts for 17 days of festivities.

In 2009, the theme of the winter carnival was, “The Carnival Leads You into the Masquerade.” Carnival brings many exciting traditions that include a life-size Ice Palace, a Canoe Race along the St. Lawrence River, outdoor museums displaying snow sculptures, two night parades and the Queens and Duchesses of Carnival. Since 1954, the Winter Carnival has had a mascot, Bonhomme, a jovial snowman, who has helped the Quebec Winter Carnival earn international fame and recognition.

Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago

This Carnival traces its roots back to West Africa and is infused with a blend of Calypso and Soca music, drumming, dancing and exotic costumes. This vibrant holiday takes place on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. Highly prestigious music competitions are a large part of the celebration.

Many participants in the Carnival celebrations wear intricate costumes that often require extensions and wheels to help the masquerader carry it through the streets. They are decorated with bright colors, sequins and feathers. Locals and tourists participate in the street parades and dance to the beats of steel-drum bands.

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