What is Carnival / Carnaval?

Soon the Carnival fever will start here all over the world and especially in Portugal and the other Portuguese regions.

Now you might be one of the many that or goes and watches the craziness that will take place on the streets … or you are a fanatic participant that just cannot wait to get into the newest carnival costume and go jumping and dancing in the big parade as if nobody was watching you (however at least hundred of people are looking at you … but you don’t care).

Madeira Carnival - Allegorical Parade

Madeira Carnival – Allegorical Parade (photo: Don Amaro)

But did you ever asked yourself … what does the word “Carnival” really stands for?

Searching the mighty web I found some few answers to that question (thank you Wikipedia):

The Carnival Season is a holiday period during the two weeks before the traditional Christian fasting of Lent. The origin of the name “Carnival” is unclear. The most common theory is that the name comes from the Italian carne- or carnovale, from Latin carnem (meat) + levare (lighten or raise), literally “to remove the meat” or “stop eating meat”.

Okay … so it is actually a bank holiday for weight-watchers then? Lets have a look how some of the countries celebrate this popular event …

England

In England Shrove Tuesday is celebrated as Pancake Day, but apart from the serving of pancakes and occasional pancake races and football matches (see Royal Shrovetide Football), little else of Carnival survived the Reformation. Caribbean influence has led to the establishment of several “West Indian” carnivals, but these are not held in Carnival season. The leading festivities are Notting Hill Carnival in August (reputedly the world’s largest), and Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival in November.

Netherlands

In the Netherlands (where it is called ‘Vastenavond’, ‘Karnaval’ or ‘Carnaval’), the last day of Carnival, the day before Ash Wednesday, is held exactly 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. Dutch Carnival is most celebrated in Catholic regions, mostly the southern provinces Noord Brabant and Limburg, where it is also known as Vastenavond (literally “Fasting evening”, although that strictly refers only to the last day). The most popular places where Carnival is held (although every city, town or village celebrates it) are Maastricht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Bergen op Zoom and Breda.

Germany

Germany, especially the western part (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate) is famous for Karneval celebrations such as parades and costume balls. In the South of Germany and Austria carnival is called Fasching and especially Munich developed a special kind of celebration. In Franconia and some other parts of Germany a carnival is called Fastnacht. Although the festival and party season in Germany starts as early as the beginning of January, the actual carnival week starts on the Thursday (“Altweiberfastnacht”) before Ash Wednesday.

Carnival clowns parade in Sesimbra village

Carnival clowns parade in Sesimbra Portugal (photo: Jose Manuel Ribeiro)

Spain

Arguably the most famous locales in Spain are Sitges, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Tarragona and specially Cádiz, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Aguilas, where the celebration normally takes place the week before Lent. At Santa Cruz de Tenerife the parties of the cities are not only well known in Spain, but also worldwide. It is famous for thematic costumes, and the election of the Carnival Queen. There is also a parade of Drag-Queens, known as reinonas.

Brazil

An important part of the Brazilian Carnival takes place in Rio de Janeiro, with samba schools. These are large, social entities with thousands of members and a theme each year. Blocos are small informal groups also with a definite theme, usually satirical of the current political situation, and bandas are samba musical bands usually formed by enthusiasts in the same neighborhood.

Portugal

Carnival in Portugal is celebrated throughout the country, most famously in Ovar, Madeira, Loulé, Nazaré, and Torres Vedras. The carnivals in Podence and Lazarim incorporate pagan traditions such as the careto, while the Torres Vedras celebration is probably the most typical Portuguese carnival.

Ironically, although Portugal introduced Christianity and the customs related to Catholic practice to Brazil, the country has begun to adopt some aspects of Brazilian-style Carnival celebrations, in particular those of Rio de Janeiro with sumptuous parades, samba and other Brazilian musical elements.

Madeira

On the Island of Madeira, Carnaval maintains its distinctive local roots as well. Funchal, the island’s capital, wakes up on the Friday morning before Ash Wednesday to the sound of brass bands and Carnaval parades throughout the downtown area. That night festivities continue with concerts and shows in the Praça do Município for five consecutive days. The Main Carnaval street parade takes place on Saturday evening with thousands of Samba dancers flooding the streets of Funchal. The traditional public street Carnaval takes place on Tuesday, where the island’s population displays its ingenuity and imagination by creating daring caricatures for the parade.

Madeira Carnival Beauties

Madeira Carnival Beauties (photo: Don Amaro)

Carnival has many faces and many moods, with different countries and people observing it in their own special ways. Carnival is a worldwide phenomenon, an outburst of tradition and joy that engulfs locals while providing photogenic entertainment for travelers lucky enough to crash the party. Carnival has always been about spectators as much as participants. So should you find yourself at one of the above mentioned destinations around this year’s Fat Tuesday … then don’t be afraid to grab a mask and join in.

More information about “carnival” you can read at Wikipedia Carnival

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