AskDefine | Define carnival

Dictionary Definition



1 a festival marked by merrymaking and processions
2 a frenetic disorganized (and often comic) disturbance suggestive of a circus or carnival; "it was so funny it was a circus"; "the whole occasion had a carnival atmosphere" [syn: circus]
3 a traveling show; having sideshows and rides and games of skill etc. [syn: fair, funfair]

User Contributed Dictionary



From carnevale, from the phrase carnem levāre, to put away meat


  1. a festive occasion marked by parades and sometimes special foods and other entertainment
  2. comic good times marked by special events
  3. a parade group masquerading, especially when overstepping the bounds of decorum; a time of riotous excess
    • When the carnival came to town, every one wanted some cotton candy.
  4. the season just before the beginning of the Roman Catholic season of Lent, when New Orleans has its Mardi Gras carnival.
  5. A ritual reversal of a social hierarchy.


See also

Extensive Definition

Carnival is a festival season and literally means 'farewell to the flesh'. It occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February or March. It typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus and public street party. People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations.
Carnaval is mostly associated with Roman Catholic and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox Christians; Protestant areas usually do not have carnival celebrations or have modified traditions, like the Danish Carnaval. The world's largest carnival celebration is held in Brazil but many countries worldwide have large, popular celebrations, such as Carnaval of Venice.

Length and individual holidays

Depending on the area, the carnival may last from a few weeks to several months. While its starting day varies, it usually ends on the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. In the Ambrosian rite of Milan (Italy), the carnival ends on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, and in the area of Eastern Christianity, it ends on the Sunday seven weeks before Easter, since in Eastern tradition lent begins on Clean Monday.
Most commonly the season begins on Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday, but in some places it starts as early as Twelfth Night or even in November. The most important celebrations are generally concentrated during the last days of the season.
The following holidays, which are all part of the seven days before Ash Wednesday, often have special customs:
  • Quinquagesima, the Sunday, when often a break from the festivities occurs;
  • Shrove Monday or Lundi Gras or Rosenmontag, in many areas the high point of the festivities;
  • Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) or Fastnacht, the high point of the festivities when, according to many traditions, preparations for the parties are made, such as baking goods.


Germany, especially the western part (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate) is famous for Karneval celebrations such as parades and costume balls. Whilst these events are widespread in places such as Wattenscheid, Krefeld, Aachen, Mönchengladbach, Duisburg, Bonn, Eschweiler, Odenheim, Bocholt and Cleves, only Cologne, Düsseldorf, Mainz are called carnival "strongholds" in the public media. In parts of East and South Germany and Austria the carnival is called Fasching and especially Munich developed a special kind of celebration. In Franconia and the southwest-parts and also some other parts of Germany a carnival is called Fastnacht or Fasnet.
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. German Carnival parades are held on the weekend before and especially on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday), the day before Shrove Tuesday, and sometimes also on Shrove Tuesday ("Faschingsdienstag") in the suburbs of larger carnival cities. The carnival session begins each year on 11 November at 11:11 a.m. and finishes on Ash Wednesday. Most festivities happen around Rosenmontag; this time is also called the Fifth Season.
In the Rhineland festivities developed especially strongly, since it was a way to express subversive anti-Prussian and anti-French thoughts in times of occupation, through parody and mockery. Modern carnival there began in 1823 with the founding of a Carnival Club in Cologne. Most cities and villages of the Rhineland have their own individual Carnival traditions. Nationally famous is the Carnival in Cologne (Köln), Düsseldorf and Mainz. In the Rhineland, the Carnival season is considered to be the "fifth season of the year", starting at November 11th at exactly 11:11 a.m. (elften elften elf uhr elf- starting time in German) -clubs organize "sessions" which are show events called Prunksitzung with club members or invited guests performing dance, comedy and songs in costumes.
The main event is the street carnival that takes place in the period between the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and Ash Wednesday. Carnival Thursday is called "Altweiber" (old women) or "Wieverfastelovend" (The women's day), in many places Carnival-"fools" take over city halls or municipal government, "wild" women cut men's ties wherever they get hold of them. On the following days, there are parades in the street organized by the local carnival clubs. The highlight of the carnival period however is Rose Monday. Rose Monday is not officially a holiday in the Rhineland, but it is in practice, as most public life comes to a rest and almost all workplaces are closed and shops are only open in the morning or not at all. The biggest parades are on Rose Monday, the famous "Rosenmontagszug" (Rose Monday Parade), e.g. in Cologne, Düsseldorf and many other cities. During these events, hundreds of thousands of people celebrate in the streets at low temperatures, most of them dressed up in costumes. Almost every town has a special carnival cry (Düsseldorf and Mainz: Helau!; Cologne: Alaaf!; Mönchengladbach: Halt Pohl! (hold on to the pole); Rheydt: All Rheydt!).
Alemannic Fastnacht
The "Swabian-Alemannic" carnival begins on January 6 (Epiphany/Three Kings Day). This celebration is known as Fastnacht. Variants are Fasnet, Fasnacht or Fasent. Fastnacht is held in Baden-Württemberg, parts of Bavaria, and Alsace. Switzerland and Vorarlberg, in Austria, also hold this celebration. The festival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, known in these regions as Schmutziger Donnerstag or Fettdonnerstag. In standard German, schmutzig means "dirty", but actually the name is from the local dialect where schmutzig means "fat"; "Greasy Thursday" (also compare: "Mardi Gras" in New Orleans). Elsewhere the day is called "Women's Carnival" (Weiberfastnacht), being the day when tradition says that women take control. In particular regions of Tyrol, Salzburg and Bavaria traditional processions of the Perchten welcome the springtime. The Schönperchten ("beautiful Perchts") represent the birth of new life in the awakening nature, the Schiachperchten ("ugly Perchts") represent the dark spirits of wintertime. Farmers yearn for warmer weather and the Perchtenlauf (Run of Perchts; typical scenery) is a magical expression of that desire. The nights between winter and spring, when evil ghosts are supposed to go around, are also called Rauhnächte ("rough nights"). Mask of an "ugly Percht"


In England, the season immediately before Lent was called Shrovetide. It was a time for confessing sins (shriving) with fewer festivities than the Continental Carnivals. 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 the Lent-related Shrovetide survived the English Reformation. One of the few, if not the only, Shrovetide carnivals in the UK takes places in Cowes and East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. This is the first carnival of the year on the Island, and is the start of a long and busy carnival calendar.
The traditional English carnivals take place later in the year, such as the West Country Carnival, associated with Guy Fawkes Night. London's has several major carnivals, such as the Notting Hill Carnival and the Carnaval Del Pueblo, both held in August. Luton Carnival, begun 1976, is in May.


Patras in the Peloponnese, holds the largest annual carnival in Greece, the famous Patras Carnival, with celebrations starting on the week before the beginning of Greek Orthodox Great Lent, which falls between February to March. It is a ‘gran spettacolo’ that lasts three days and finishes on Clean Monday.
Also in many other regions festivities of smaller extent are organized, focused on the reenactment of traditional customs. Other important carnivals in Greece are these in Tyrnavos (Thessaly),Kozani (West Macedonia), Rethymno (Crete) and in Xanthi (East Macedonia and Thrace).


In Mohács in Hungary, the Busójárás involves locals dressing up in woolly costumes, with scary masks and noise-makers. They perform a burial ritual to symbolise the end of winter and spike doughnuts on weapons to symbolise the defeat of Ottomans.


- The carnival in Venice was first recorded in 1268. The subversive nature of the festival is reflected in the many laws created over the centuries in Italy attempting to restrict celebrations and often banning the wearing of masks.
Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival; traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, December 26) at the start of the carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday. As masks were also allowed during Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large proportion of the year in disguise. Mask makers (mascareri) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild.
In 1797 Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798 and it fell into a decline which brought carnival celebrations to a halt for many years. It was not until a modern mask shop was founded in the 1970s that a revival of old traditions began.
- Another important Italian carnival is the Historical Carnival of Ivrea, mostly known for its Battle of the Oranges. It is valued as one of the most ancient carnivals in the world: during the year 1000 a miller's wife killed the tyrant of the city, King Arduino; from that episode began a civil war between the oppressed people and the king's supporters, finally won by people, and until now every year the citizens remember their liberation with the Battle of the Oranges. Here, teams of "Aranceri" by foot shoot oranges representing ancient arrows and stones against Aranceri on carts, representing Arduino's allies. During the French occupation of Italy in the nineteenth century the Carnival of Ivrea had been modified by adding representatives of the French army who help the miller's wife.
- In Milan the Carnival lasts four more days, ending on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, because of the Ambrosian rite.


Main Article: Maltese Carnival
Carnival in Malta (known as Karnival) was first was introduced in 1535 by Grand Master Piero de Ponte, five years after the Knights took over the islands. The main celebration takes place in the capital, Valletta, but in every town and village many people, mostly children, dress up in colourful clothes to camouflage their identity. The Valletta parade includes the King Carnival float followed by about a dozen others. Until some years ago, Carnival was also the event of the year for dances and masked balls. Under the rule of the Knights, the Auberges were left open and were delightfully decorated. Carnival in Malta is somewhat very popular. By time popularity is increasing and peoples participation in the events is also at an increase. In Malta carnival is usually held in the first weeks of March.


In the Netherlands where it is called 'Karnaval', 'Carnaval', 'Vastenavond' or 'Vastelaovend' 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 or Vastelaovend (literally "Fasting evening", although that strictly refers only to the last day, whereas Carnival in the Netherlands usually begins on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday). The most popular places where Carnival is held (although every city, town or village celebrates it) are Maastricht, Roermond, Heerlen, Venlo, Tilburg, 's-Hertogenbosch, Bergen op Zoom, Eindhoven, Breda Oldenzaal and Prinsenbeek The places have while carnival also other name's for instance Prinsenbeek is called Boemeldonck. Carnival here has been celebrated ever since mediaeval times and was modernised after WW II, when Bergen op Zoom even continued to celebrate it indoors. However, it is the most southern province of The Netherlands, Limburg, where many Dutch go to celebrate it. During the event, every town is one big party.
During Dutch Carnival, many traditions are kept alive. First of all is the parade with dressed-up groups, musicians and elaborately built floats. Also traditions include a fake prince plus cortège ('Council of 11'), the boerenbruiloft (farmer's wedding) and the haring happen (eating herring) on Ash Wednesday. However, the traditions vary from town to town.
There are several types of Carnival celebrated in The Netherlands. The best known variant is known as the Rijnlandsche Carnival which can be experienced in the province of Limburg.. It shares many folklore traditions with its German and Belgian counterparts. Maastricht is famous not so much for its parades but for its street carnival, with elaborate costumes that people work on all year, a bit like the South American style, but with a strong accent on humour, and bearing resemblance to Italian, mostly Venetian, traditions, culture and costumes.
Another variety can be found in the province of Noord-Brabant, e.g. in Tilburg, 's-Hertogenbosch, Breda, Steenbergen and Bergen op Zoom. The Carnival in 's-Hertogenbosch is known as the oldest in the Netherlands. Several paintings of the world famous Jheronimus Bosch, who lived in the city in the 15th century, are based on the carnival festivities in the city during the Middle Ages. The oldest known Carnival festivities in 's-Hertogenbosch date from 1385. In 1882 De Oeteldonksche Club was founded to secure the future of Carnival in 's-Hertogenbosch. The Carnival of Bergen op Zoom shares most traditions with 's-Hertogenbosch and very few traditions and folklore with the rest of the Netherlands and they have celebrated it in their specific way ever since 1839.
Rotterdam (since 1984) and Arnhem (since 2001) celebrate every year Brazilian carnival at the end of July. With 900,000 (2006) and 120,000 (2006) visitors, both events increase in popularity. The Rotterdam carnival includes a yearly Queen and best brass band election in the week before the event.


The Polish Carnival Season includes Fat Thursday (Polish: Tłusty Czwartek), a day for eating pączki (doughnuts); and Śledziówka (Shrove Tuesday) or Herring Day. The Tuesday before the start of Lent is also often called Ostatki (literally "lasts"), meaning the last day to party before the Lenten season.
The traditional way to celebrate Carnival is the kulig, a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow-covered countryside. Increasingly today, especially among the younger generation, Carnival is seen as an excuse for an intensive burst of partying and night-clubbing, and is becoming ever more commercialized with many stores displaying special selections of goods and garish clothing for the Carnival season.


Carnival in Portugal is celebrated throughout the country, the most famous are the ones of Ovar, Madeira, Loulé, Podence and Torres Vedras. The ones from Podence and Lazarim have pagan traditions, namely the Careto, and Torres Vedras Carnival is seen as the most typical Portuguese carnival.
Paradoxically, Portugal having introduced Christianity and the customs related to Catholic practice to Brazil, has started to adopt some of the aspects of Brazilian-style Carnival celebrations, in particular those of Rio de Janeiro with sumptuous parades, Samba and other Brazilian musical elements.


Maslenitsa (, also called Pancake Week or "Cheese Week") is a Russian folk holiday that incorporates some traditions that date back to pagan times. It is celebrated during the last week before the Great Lent; that is, the seventh week before the Easter. Maslenitsa is a direct analog of the Roman Catholic Carnival. Maslenitsa has a dual ancestry: pagan and Christian. The essential element of Maslenitsa celebration are bliny, Russian pancakes, popularly taken to symbolize the sun. Round and golden, they are made from the rich foods still allowed during that week by the Orthodox traditions: butter, eggs, and milk (in the tradition of Orthodox lent, the consumption of meat ceases one week before the consumption of milk and eggs).
Maslenitsa also includes masquerades, snowball fights, sledding, swinging on swings and plenty of sleigh rides. The mascot of the celebration is usually a brightly dressed straw effigy of Lady Maslenitsa, formerly known as Kostroma. As the culmination of the celebration, on Sunday evening, Lady Maslenitsa is stripped of her finery, and put to the flames of a bonfire.
In Saint Petersburg the modern celebration of the festival is organized by the city to fall on a fixed date annually (at Sunday, closest to May 27th).


In Slovakia, the Fašiangy (fašiang, fašangy) takes place from Three Kings' Day (Traja králi) until the midnight before the Ash Wednesday (Škaredá streda or Popolcová streda). At the midnight, marking the end of fašiangy, a symbolic burial ceremony for the contrabass is performed, because music has to cease for the Lent.


The festive year of the Slovenes is extraordinarily rich and diverse. A great deal of national legacy has been preserved within widely attended tourist events.
The Slovenian countryside displays a variety of disguised groups and individual characters among which the most popular and characteristic is the Kurent (plural: Kurenti), a monstrous and demon-like, yet fluffy mask. The most significant ethonological Carnival festival is traditionally held in annually in the town of Ptuj (see: Kurentovanje). The special feature of the event of Ptuj itself and its surrounding area are the very Kurenti, magical creatures from the other world, who visit all major events throughout the country, the members of the parliament, the president and the mayors, trying to banish the winter and announce the arrival of the spring, fertility and new life with loud noise and dancing. The origin of the Kurent is a mystery, not much is known of times and beliefs nor the purposes of its first appearance. The origin of the name itself is obscure.
Another town, equal in importance to Ptuj, where the carnival tradition is evolving in all its might, is Cerknica. Carnival is heralded by, with a whip, a traditional mask called “Poganjič”. In the carnival procession, organised by the “Pust society”, a monstrous witch Uršula is driven from Mt. Slivnica, to be burnt on the stake on Ash Wednesday. Unique to this region is a group of dormice, driven by the Devil and a huge cave dragon spitting fire. Cerkno and its surrounding area is known for the "Laufarji" (the chasing men), Carnival figures with artistic masks.
Mačkare from Dobrepolje used to represent triple character: the beautiful and the ugly (among which the most important represented by an old man, an old woman, a humpback and a Corant) and the noble (imitating the urban elite).
The major part of the population, especially the young and children, enjoy dressing up as ordinary non-ethnical masks, going to school, faculties, work and organized events, where the best and most original masks are awarded. Dressed up children go from house to house asking for a treat.


Arguably the most famous locales in Spain are Sitges, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Tarragona and specially Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Cádiz, Badajoz, Laza (an ancestral carnival celebration), Xinzo de Limia (the longest carnival in Spain). 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.
Sitges: This Carnival is one of the most important Carnivals in the autonomous community of Catalonia. Folk dances and xatonades (traditional local salad of Sitges, served with assorted omelets) are also characteristic elements of the carnival. The two most important moments in the carnival of Sitges are the Rua de la Disbauxa, or the Debauchery Parade, on Sunday night and the Rua de l‘Extermini, or Extermination Parade, on Tuesday night. Some forty-odd floats with more than 2,500 participants parade in Sitges. The carnival of Vilanova i la Geltrù is very important because of Les Comparses (on Sunday), in which good-humoured rival groups throw boiled sweets (candies) at each other.
In Tarragona is found one of the most complete ritual sequences of the Catalan carnivals. The events start with the building of a huge barrel and end with its burning together with the effigies of the carnival King and Queen. On Saturday, the main parade takes place. There are masked groups, zoomorphic figures, music and percussion bands, and traditional groups with fireworks (the devils, the dragon, the ox, the female dragon). Carnival groups stand out for their splendid clothes full of elegance and of brilliant examples of fabric crafts at the Saturday and Sunday parades.
Carnival of Cádiz
In Cádiz everyone wears a costume, which is often related to recent news, such as the bird flu epidemic in 2006, during which many people were disguised as chickens. The feeling of this carnival is the sharp criticism, the funny play on words and the imagination in the costumes, more than the glamorous dressings. It is traditional to paint the face with lipstick as a humble substitute of a mask.
In Trinidad & Tobago, Carnival is a holiday season that lasts over a month and culminates in large celebrations in Port of Spain which is the capital of Trinidad, on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with Dimanche Gras, J'ouvert, and Mas (masquerade). Tobago's celebrations also culminates on Monday and Tuesday but on a much smaller scale in its capital Scarborough. Carnival is a festive time of costumes, dance, music, competitions, rum, and partying (also referred to as fete-ing). Music styles associated with Carnival include soca, calypso
The annual Carnival steel pan competition known as the National Panorama competition is held in the weeks preceding Carnival with the finals held on the Saturday before the main event. Pan players compete in various categories such as "Conventional Steel band" or "Single Pan" by performing renditions of the current year's calypsos. Preliminary judging of this event for "Conventional Steel Bands" has been recently moved to the individual pan yards where steel bands practice their selections for the competition.
"Dimanche Gras" takes place on the Sunday night before Ash Wednesday. Here the Calypso Monarch is chosen (after competition) and prize money and a vehicle bestowed. Also the King and Queen of the bands are crowned, where each band to parade costumes for the next two days submits a king and queen, from which an overall winner is chosen. These usually involve huge, complex, beautiful costumes.
J'ouvert, or "Dirty Mas", takes place before dawn on the Monday (known as Carnival Monday) before Ash Wednesday. It means ""opening of the day" . Here revelers dress in old clothes and cover themselves in mud, oil paint and body paint. A common character to be seen at this time is "Jab-jabs" (devils, blue, black or red) complete with pitch fork, pointed horns and tails. Here also, a king and queen of the J'ouvert are chosen, based on their representation of current political/social events/issues.
Carnival Monday involves the parade of the mas bands, but on a casual or relaxed scale. Usually revelers wear only parts of their costumes, and the purpose of the day is more one of fun than display or competition. Also on Carnival Monday, Monday Night Mas is popular in most towns and especially the capital, where smaller bands participate in competition.
Carnival Tuesday is when the main events of the carnival take place. On this day full costume is worn complete with make up and body paints/adornments. Each band has their costume presentation based on a particular theme, and contain various sections (some consisting of thousands of revelers) which reflect these themes. Here the street parade and eventual crowning of the best bands take place. After following a route where various judging points are located, the mas bands eventually converge on the Queen's Park Savannah to pass "on the stage" to be judged once and for all. Also taking place on this day is the crowning of the Road March king or queen, where the singer of the most played song over the two days of the carnival is crowned winner, complete with prize money and usually a vehicle.
This parading and revelry goes on into the night of the Tuesday. Ash Wednesday itself, whilst not an official holiday, is marked by most by visiting the beaches that abound both Trinidad and Tobago. The most populated being Maracas beach and Manzanilla beach, where huge beach parties take place every Ash Wednesday. These provide a cool down from the previous five days of hectic partying, parades and competitions, and are usually attended by the whole family.


Although Carnival was introduced by the Spaniards and has incorporated elements from the European cultures, it has managed to re-interpret traditions that belonged to the African and Amerindian cultures of Colombia. There is documentary evidence that Carnival existed in Colombia in the 18th century and had already been a cause for concern for the colonial authorities, who censored the celebrations, especially in the main political centres such as Cartagena, Bogotá and Popayán.
The Carnival, therefore, continued its evolution and re-interpretation in the small and at that time unimportant towns where celebrations did not offend the ruling elites. The result was the uninterrupted celebration of Carnival festivals in Barranquilla (see Barranquilla Carnival), in other villages along the lower Magdalena River in northern Colombia, and in Pasto, Nariño (see Blacks and Whites Carnival) in the south of the country. In modern times, there have been attempts to introduce Carnival in the capital, Bogotá, in the early 20th century, but it has always failed to gain the approval of authorities. The Bogotá Carnival has had to wait until the 21st century to be resurrected, this time by the authorities of the city.


In Ecuador, the celebrations have a history that begins before the arrival of Catholicism. It is known that the Huarangas Indians (from the Chimbos nation) used to celebrate the second moon of the year with a festival at which they threw flour, flowers and perfumed water. This once pagan tradition has since merged with the Catholic celebration of Carnaval.
A common feature of Ecuadorian Carnival is the diablitos (little devils) who play with water. As with snowball fights, the practice of throwing or dumping water on unsuspecting victims is especially revered by children and teenagers, and feared by some adults. Throwing water balloons, sometimes even eggs and flour both to friends and strangers passing by the street can be a lot of fun but can also raise the ire of unfamiliarised foreigners and even locals.
Although the government as well as school authorities forbid such games, it is still widely practiced throughout the country. Historians tell of a Bishop in 1867 who threatened the punishment of ex-communion for the sin of playing Carnival games.
Different festivities are held in various regions of the country, where the locals wear disguises with colorful masks and dance to the rhythm of lively music. Usually, the celebrations begin with the election of the Taita Carnaval (Father Carnaval) who will head the festivities and lead the parades in each city.
The most famed carnival festivities are those in Guaranda (Bolivar province) and Ambato (Tungurahua province). In Ambato, the festivities are called Fiesta de las Flores y las Frutas (Festival of the Flowers and Fruits). Other cities have also revived the carnival traditions with colorful parades, such as in Azogues (Cañar Province). In Azogues and the Southern Andes in general, the Taita Carnaval is always an indigenous Cañari dressed for the celebrations.

French Guiana

The Carnival of French Guiana is a major aspect of the culture of that country. Although its roots are in the Creole culture, everyone participates — mainland French, Brazilians (Guiana has a frontier with Brazil) and Chinese as well as creoles.
Its duration is variable, determined by movable religious festivals: Carnival begins at Epiphany and ends on Ash Wednesday, and so typically lasts through most of January and February. During this period, from Friday evening until Monday morning the entire country throbs to the rhythm of the masked balls and street parades. Normal life slows almost to a stop.
Friday afternoons are the time for eating galette des rois (the cake of kings) and drinking champagne. The cake may be flavoured with frangipani, guava, or coconut.
On Sunday afternoons major parades are staged in the streets of Cayenne, Kourou, and Saint-Laurent du Maroni. Competing groups prepare for months. Dressed according to the agreed theme of the year, they strut along with carnival floats, drums, and brass bands.
Brazilian groups are also appreciated for their elaborate feathered and sequined costumes. However, they are not eligible for competition since the costumes do not change from one year to the next.
Certain mythical characters appear regularly in the parades:
  • Karolin: A small person dressed in a magpie tail and top hat, riding on a shrew.
  • Les Nèg'marrons: Groups of men dressed in red loincloths, bearing ripe tomatoes in their mouths and their bodies smeared with grease or molasses. These men deliberately try to come in contact with spectators, soiling their clothes.
  • Les makoumés: Men in drag (out of the carnival context, makoumé is a pejorative term for a homosexual).
  • Soussouris (the bat): a character dressed in a winged leotard from head to foot, usually black in colour. Traditionally malevolent, this character is liable to chase spectators and "sting" them.
A uniquely Creole tradition of this version of carnival is the so-called touloulous. These are women wearing highly decorative gowns, gloves, masks and headdresses which cover them completely so that they are not only unrecognisable, but the colour of their skin cannot even be determined. On Friday and Saturday nights of carnival, touloulou balls are held in so-called universities — in reality, large dance halls that only open in carnival time. Touloulous get in free, and are even given condoms in the interest of the sexual health of the community. Men also attend the balls, but they have to pay admittance and they are not disguised. The touloulous pick their dance partners, who may not refuse the dance. Thus, the setup is designed to make it easy for a woman to create a temporary liaison with a man she fancies in total anonymity. Undisguised women are not welcome at the balls. By tradition, if one gets up to dance, the orchestra stops playing. Alcohol is served at bars — the disguised women also pick up men by whispering to them "touloulou thirsty," at which a round of drinks is expected, to be drunk through a straw so as not to unmask in the slightest.
In more modern times, Guyanais men have attempted to turn the tables by staging soirées tololo, in which it's the men who, in disguise, seek partners from undisguised women bystanders.
The final four days of carnival have a rigid tradition of celebration, and no work is done at all.
  • Sunday: The Grand Parade, in which the competing groups show off their very best.
  • Monday: Marriage burlesque, with men dressed as brides and women as grooms.
  • Tuesday: Red Devil Day, with everyone wearing red or black.
  • (Ash) Wednesday: Dress is black and white only, for the grand ceremony of burning the effigy of Vaval, the King of the Carnival.
[This text relied principally on text in The French wikipedia


In Haiti, Carnival (Kanaval) includes many elaborated floats, pageants, masked balls, elaborate costumes, loud music, and dancing in the streets.
During slavery, the slave masters "Les Colons" continued to celebrate carnival according to their tradition in Haiti. The slaves could not celebrate like Les Colons because they were not free. However, they used different strategies to elude Les Colons later on. After the independence in 1804, the newly freed individuals took advantage of their freedom to celebrate carnival for the first time. They had all kings of Indian and Africans clothing, food, music, and cultural shows during the celebration. They continued to celebrate the event until the modern age of our society.
In the 1950s and 60's Haitians' carnival took a different turn, but kept all of the flavors of the past. The Sundays preceding "Les trois jours Gras" one meets all types of "Mardi Gras" from 9:00 AM to about midnight all over the country. Poor, rich, middle class, educated or not wore carnival costumes and visited one neighborhood to another. It was an all day event beginning Friday to Fat Tuesday. On Friday, the Universities organized their own carnival known as "Carnaval Des Etudiants." They traveled the streets of the capital and the provinces, with their floats, their musical bands, and their pageants. Saturday was reserved for all grammar and high school students. As observers, the adults enjoyed themselves with the youth during these two days. The other three days were the period during which people across the nation looked forward to. The floats for the carnival was arranged as follows:
1) Decorated bicycles
2) Decorated motorcycles
3) Guard-cote, special Mardi-Gras, machan feuille/leaves merchants
4) Magicians, priests, lawyers, baron, funeral march,�
5) Decorated mask, Indians, Zombies, and Africans
6) Chaloskas, chouchoune, decorated animals such as horses, donkeys
7)"Band a pied" such as; Ti Tato, Maison Ante, Zobolo, YoYo, Dragon, Diabolo, Lobodia, Derange, Aroyo, Peuple S'amuse, Minuit-Minuit, Grande Puissance, Tolalito, and Autofonic.
No one was allowed in the celebration without a uniform. Each band or band a pied had a different color of uniform. The uniform determined which band the fans belonged to. For the first time, in 1967, Webert Sicot participated with his band in the carnival. One year later in 1968, he introduced Ti Simone, a pageant, to his float. Also in 1969, Nemours participated for the first time in the carnival with his band. Then in 1969 and thereafter, we found mini bands like Les Gypsies, Les Difficiles, Suga Combo, Sheu-Shleu, Les Ambassadeurs, and later one found Bossa Combo, Scorpio and DP Express.


In La Ceiba in Honduras, Carnival is held on the fourth Saturday of every May to commemorate San Isidro. It is the largest Carnival celebration in Central America.


In the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, in the city of Bluefields, the carnival, better known as Palo de Mayo (or Mayo Ya!), is celebrated every day of May.
In the Nicaragua's capital city, Managua, it is only celebrated for 2 days. The carnival in Managua is named "Alegria por la vida" translated to "Joy for Life" and features a different theme each year.


In Mexico, Carnival is celebrated in some cities, notably Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mazatlan and in the state of Veracruz, where Carnival is celebrated with traditional music and dances. People dress in bright, feathered costumes and do their performances on the streets. Mazatlan's celebration is sometimes compared to the carnival of Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans. In Copandaro de Galeana Michoacan carnival is celebrated with parades, games, bull riding, and dancing.


The Panamanian Carnival is the second biggest festival in the world. Traditionally beginning on Friday and ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, "los carnavales," as Panamanians refer to the days of carnival, are celebrated in almost the whole country. Carnival Week in Panama is specially popular because of the luxury and magnitude of the Las Tablas Carnival as well as the carnival celebrations in Panama City and almost all of the Azuero Peninsula. The Panamanian Carnival is also popular because of the great number of concerts by national and international artists held on different stages in the most visited areas of the country.


The Carnival in Montevideo is the longest of the world, with more than 40 days of celebration, generally occurring in February through mid March. The main attractions of Uruguayan Carnival include two parades called Desfile de Carnaval (Carnival Parade) and Desfile de Llamadas (Summoning Parade).
During the forty days of celebration, popular theaters called tablados are built in many places throughout the city. In these theaters Murgas, Lubolos, Parodistas and other groups perform a kind of popular opera, singing and dancing songs that generally relate to social reality and activity in the country. They also wear their festival clothing. For women its a elegant dress and for men its a shirt and tie.


The Quebec City Winter Carnival is the biggest winter-themed carnival in the world.
It depends on good snowfalls and very cold weather, to keep snowy ski trails in good condition and the many ice sculptures intact. For this reason it does not coincide with the pre-Lent celebration but is fixed instead to the last days of January and first days of February. In the Ottawa-Gatineau region, Winterlude takes place during the first 3 weeks of February.

United States

Carnival celebrations, usually referred to as Mardi Gras, are common in the Gulf Coast area of the Southern United States, including Texas and the western Panhandle of Florida. They originated in the onetime French Colonial capitals of Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Biloxi, Mississippi, all of which have celebrated for many years with street parades and masked balls.


The best-known, most elaborate, and most popular events are in New Orleans, while other South Louisiana cities such as Lafayette, Mamou, and Houma, all of which were under French control at one time or another, are the sites of famous Carnival celebrations of their own.
Major Mardi Gras celebrations are spreading to other parts of the United States, such as the Mississippi Valley region of St. Louis, Missouri and Orlando, Florida in Universal Studios.

See also


  • McGowan, Chris and Pessanha, Ricardo. "The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil." 1998. 2nd edition. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-545-3
  • Catholic Encyclopedia, Shrovetide
carnival in Tosk Albanian: Fastnacht
carnival in Arabic: كرنفال
carnival in Asturian: Antroxu
carnival in Bavarian: Fasching
carnival in Bosnian: Karneval
carnival in Bulgarian: Карнавал
carnival in Catalan: Carnaval
carnival in Czech: Karneval
carnival in Danish: Fastelavn
carnival in German: Karneval, Fastnacht und Fasching
carnival in Modern Greek (1453-): Απόκριες
carnival in Spanish: Carnaval
carnival in Esperanto: Karnavalo
carnival in Basque: Inauteri
carnival in Persian: کارناوال
carnival in French: Carnaval
carnival in Korean: 사육제
carnival in Croatian: Poklade
carnival in Indonesian: Karnaval
carnival in Italian: Carnevale
carnival in Hebrew: קרנבל
carnival in Javanese: Karnaval
carnival in Latin: Carnelevarium
carnival in Limburgan: Vastelaovend
carnival in Dutch: Carnaval
carnival in Dutch Low Saxon: Karnevaal
carnival in Japanese: 謝肉祭
carnival in Norwegian: Karneval
carnival in Norwegian Nynorsk: Karneval
carnival in Narom: Carnava
carnival in Polish: Karnawał
carnival in Portuguese: Carnaval
carnival in Kölsch: Karneval
carnival in Romanian: Carnaval
carnival in Quechua: Karnawal
carnival in Russian: Карнавал
carnival in Slovak: Fašiangy
carnival in Finnish: Karnevaali
carnival in Swedish: Karneval
carnival in Ukrainian: Карнавал
carnival in Chinese: 谢肉节

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Advent, Allhallowmas, Allhallows, Allhallowtide, Annunciation, Annunciation Day, Ascension Day, Ash Wednesday, Candlemas, Candlemas Day, Christmas, Corpus Christi, Easter, Easter Monday, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday, Eastertide, Ember days, Epiphany, Good Friday, Halloween, Hallowmas, Holy Thursday, Holy Week, Lady Day, Lammas, Lammas Day, Lammastide, Lent, Lententide, Mardi Gras, Martinmas, Maundy Thursday, Michaelmas, Michaelmas Day, Michaelmastide, Palm Sunday, Pancake Day, Passion Week, Pentecost, Quadragesima, Quadragesima Sunday, Septuagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Trinity Sunday, Twelfth-day, Twelfth-tide, Whit-Tuesday, White Sunday, Whitmonday, Whitsun, Whitsunday, Whitsuntide, WhitweekBroadway, Mardi Gras, Saturnalia, banquet, blowout, burlesque, burlesque show, circus, coochie show, do, drama, entertainment industry, fair, fantoccini, feast, festival, festive occasion, festivity, fete, field day, fiesta, floor show, gala, gala affair, gala day, galanty show, girly show, great doings, high jinks, hootchy-kootchy show, jamboree, kermis, leg show, legit, legitimate stage, light show, magic show, off Broadway, off-off-Broadway, ombres chinoises, party, peep show, picnic, playland, puppet show, raree-show, rep show, repertory drama, repertory show, rodeo, shadow show, show biz, show business, sideshow, stage world, stagedom, stageland, stock, strawhat, strawhat circuit, summer stock, the big top, the boards, the footlights, the scenes, the stage, the theater, theater world, theatromania, theatrophobia, variety, variety show, vaudeville, vaudeville show, waygoose, wayzgoose
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