In Catalonia, people dress in masks and costume (often in themed groups) and organize a week-long series of parties, pranks, outlandish activities such as bed races, street dramas satirizing public figures, and raucous processions to welcome the arrival of Sa Majestat el Rei Carnestoltes (“His Majesty King Carnival”), known by various titles, including el Rei dels poca-soltes (“King of the Crackpots”)
, Princep etern de Cornudella (“Eternal Prince of Cuckoldry”), Duc de ximples i corrumputs (“Duke of Fools and the Corrupt”), Marquès de la bona mamella (“Marquis of the lovely breast”), Comte de tots els barruts (“Count of the Insolent”)
, Baró de les Calaverades (“Baron of Nocturnal Debaucheries”), and Senyor de l’alt Plàtan florit, dels barraquers i gamberrades i artista d’honor dalt del llit (“Lord of the Tall Banana in Bloom, of the Voyeurs and Punks and the Artist of Honor upon the Bed”).
The King presides over a period of misrule in which conventional social rules may be broken and reckless behavior is encouraged. Festivities are held in the open air, beginning with a cercavila, a ritual procession throughout the town to call everyone to attend.
Rues of masked revelers dance alongside. On Thursday, Dijous Gras (Fat Thursday) is celebrated, also called ‘omelette day’ (el dia de la truita), on which coques (de llardons, butifarra d’ou, butifarra), and omelettes are eaten.
The festivities end on Ash Wednesday with elaborate funeral rituals marking the death of King Carnival, who is typically burned on a pyre in what is called the “burial of the sardine” (enterrament de la sardina)
The Carnival of Vilanova i la Geltrú has a documented history from 1790 and is one of the richest in the variety of its acts and rituals. It adopts an ancient style in which satire, the grotesque body (particularly cross-dressing and displays of exaggerated bellies, noses, and phalli) and above all, active participation are valued over glamorous, media-friendly spectacles that Vilanovins mock as “thighs and feathers”. It is best known for Les Comparses (held on Sunday), a tumultuous dance in which thousands of dancers in traditional dresses and Mantons de Manila (Manila shawls), organized into groups of couples march in the street forming lines while throwing tons of hard candies at one another.
Vilanovinians organize several rituals during the week. On Dijous Gras, Vilanovin children are excused from school to participate in the Merengada, a day-long scene of eating and fighting with sticky, sweet meringue while adults have a meringue battle at midnight at the historic Plaça de les Cols.
On Friday citizens are called to a parade for the arrival of King Carnival called l’Arrivo that changes every year. It includes a raucous procession of floats and dancers lampooning current events or public figures and a bitingly satiric sermon (el sermo) delivered by the King himself.
On Saturday, the King’s procession and his concubines scandalize the town with their sexual behavior, the mysterious Moixo Foguer (Little-Bird-Bonfire) is shown accompanied by the Xerraire (jabberer) who try to convince the crowd about the wonders of this mighty bird he carries in a box (who is in fact a naked person covered in feathers). and other items such as sport acts and barbecues in the streets, the talking-dance of the Mismatched Couples (Ball de Malcasats), the children’s King Caramel whose massive belly, long nose and sausage-like hair hint at his insatiable appetites, or the debauched Nit dels Mascarots dance.
After Sunday, vilanovinians continue its Carnival with the children’s partyVidalet, the satirical chorus of Carnestoltes songs and the last night of revelry, the Vidalot. For the King’s funeral, people dress in elaborate mourning costume, many of them cross-dressing men who carry bouquets of phallic vegetables.
In the funeral house, the body of the King is surrounded by weeping concubines, crying over the loss of sexual pleasure brought about by his death. The King’s body is carried to the Plaça de la Vila where a satiric eulogy is delivered while the townspeople eat salty grilled sardines with bread and wine, suggesting the symbolic cannibalism of the communion ritual.
Finally, amid rockets and explosions, the King’s body is burned in a massive pyre.
Carnaval de Solsona takes place in Solsona, Lleida. It is one of the longest; free events in the streets and nightly concerts run for more than a week. The Carnival is known for a legend that explains how a donkey was hung at the tower bell − because the animal wanted to eat grass that grew on the top of the tower.
To celebrate this legend, locals hang a stuffed donkey at the tower that “pisses” above the excited crowd using a water pump. This event is the most important and takes place on Saturday night. For this reason, the inhabitants are called matarrucs (“donkey killers”).
“Comparses” groups organize free activities. These groups of friends create and personalize a uniformed suit to wear during the festivities.
In Sitges, special feasts include xatonades (xató is a traditional local salad of the Penedès coast) served with omelettes. Two important moments are the Rua de la Disbauxa (Debauchery Parade)
on Sunday night and the Rua de l’Extermini (Extermination Parade) on Tuesday night. Around 40 floats draw more than 2,500 participants.
Tarragona has one of the region’s most complete ritual sequences. The events start with the building of a huge barrel and ends with its burning with the effigies of the King and Queen. On Saturday, the main parade takes place with masked groups, zoomorphic figures, music, and percussion bands, and groups with fireworks (the devils, the dragon, the ox, the female dragon).
Carnival groups stand out for their clothes full of elegance, showing brilliant examples of fabric crafts, at the Saturday and Sunday parades. About 5,000 people are members of the parade groups.
In Greece, Carnival is known as Apókries (Απόκριες, lit. ‘[goodbye] to meat’), and officially begins with the “Opening of the Triodion”, the liturgical book used by the Orthodox Church from then until Holy Week. Apokries is made up of three themed weeks of celebration known as Prophoní (Προφωνή, ‘preannouncement week’)
, Kreatiní (Κρεατινή, ‘meat week’), and Tiriní (Τυρινή, ‘cheese week’). One of the season’s high points during Kreatini is Tsiknopémpti (lit.
‘Smoky-Thursday’), when celebrants throw large outdoor parties and roast huge amounts of meat; the ritual is repeated the following Sunday, after which point meat is forbidden until Easter. The following week, Tirini, is marked by similar festivities revolving around the consumption of cheese, eggs, and dairy and culminates with a “Cheese Sunday.
” Great Lent, and its restrictive fasting rules, begins in earnest the next day on Clean Monday. Throughout the Carnival season, festivals, parades, and balls are held all over the country. Many people disguise themselves as maskarádes (“masqueraders”) and engage in pranks and revelry throughout the season.
Patras holds the largest annual Carnival in Greece, and one of the largest in the world. The famous Patras Carnival is a three-day spectacle replete with concerts, theatre performances, parading troupes, an elaborate treasure hunt game, three major parades, parallel celebrations specifically for children, and many masquerade balls including the famous Bourboúlia (Μπουρμπούλια) ball in which women wear special robe like costumes called a dómino to hide their identy. The festivities come to a crescendo on “Cheese Sunday” when The Grand Parade of troops and floats leads celebrators to the harbor for the ceremonial burning of the effigy of King Carnival.
The Carnival in Corfu is much influenced by the Carnival of Venice. During this period, various theatrical sketches are presented on the island, called Petególia or Petegolétsa (Πετεγολέτσα) in the local dialect.
The second biggest Carnival in Greece takes place in Xanthi (Eastern Macedonia and Thrace) since 1966 and it is the major event of its kind in Northern Greece. The Xanthi Carnival manages to attract visitors from the nearby countries such as Bulgaria, Turkey, and Romania. Other regions host festivities of smaller extent, focused on the reenactment of traditional carnival customs, such as Tyrnavos (Thessaly)
, Kozani (Western Macedonia), Rethymno (Crete). Tyrnavos holds an annual Phallus festival, a traditional “phallkloric” event in which giant, gaudily painted effigies of phalluses made of papier-mâché are paraded, and which women are asked to touch or kiss.
Every year, from 1–8 January, mostly in regions of Western Macedonia, traditional Carnival festivals erupt. Best known of these is the Ragoutsária (Ραγκουτσάρια) festival in the city of Kastoria whose celebration may date back to antiquity and whose name derives from the Latin word rogatores ‘beggars’, in reference to the beggars who could mingle with the rich in their masks. It takes place from 6–8 January with mass participation and is noted for its brass bands, flutes, and Macedoniandrums. It is an ancient celebration of nature’s rebirth akin to ancient festivals for Dionysus (Dionysia) and Kronos (Saturnalia).
The word Carnival is of Christian origin, and in the Middle Ages, it referred to a period following Epiphany season that reached its climax before midnight on Shrove Tuesday. British historian John Bossy, in writing on the origin of the practices during Carnival, states that “These were, despite some appearances, Christian in character, and they were medieval in origin: although it has been widely supposed that they continued some kind of pre-Christian cult, there is in fact no evidence that they existed much before 1200.” Because Lent was a period of fasting, “Carnival therefore represented a last period of feasting and celebration before the spiritual rigors of Lent.” Meat was plentiful during this part of the Christian calendar and it was consumed during Carnival as people abstained from meat consumption during the following liturgical season, Lent. In the last few days of Carnival, known as Shrovetide, people confessed (shrived) their sins in preparation for Lent as well.
What, are there masques? Hear you me, Jessica:
Lock up my doors, and when you hear the drum
And the vile squealing of the wry-nck’d fife,
Clamber not you up o the casements then,
Nor thrust your head into the public street
To gaze on Christian fools with varnish’d faces.
From an anthropological point of view, carnival is a reversal ritual, in which social roles are reversed and norms about desired behavior are suspended.
Winter was thought of as the reign of the winter spirits; these needed to be driven out in order for the summer to return. Carnival can thus be regarded as a rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer: a fertility celebration, the first spring festival of the new year.
Traditionally, a Carnival feast was the last opportunity for common people to eat well, as there was typically a food shortage at the end of the winter as stores ran out. Until spring produce was available, people were limited to the minimum necessary meals during this period.
On what nowadays is called vastenavond (the days before fasting), all the remaining winter stores of lard, butter, and meat which were left would be eaten, for these would otherwise soon start to rot and decay. The selected livestock had already been slaughtered in November and the meat would no longer be preservable.
Several Germanic tribes celebrated the returning of the daylight. The winter would be driven out, to make sure that fertility could return in spring. A central figure of this ritual was possibly the fertility goddess Nerthus.
Also, there are some indications that the effigy of Nerthus or Freyr was placed on a ship with wheels and accompanied by a procession of people in animal disguise and men in women’s clothes. Aboard the ship a marriage would be consummated as a fertility ritual.
Tacitus wrote in his Germania: Germania 9.6: Ceterum nec cohibere parietibus deos neque in ullam humani oris speciem adsimulare ex magnitudine caelestium arbitrator – “The Germans, however, do not consider it consistent with the grandeur of celestial beings to confine the gods within walls, or to liken them to the form of any human countenance.
” Germania 40: mox vehiculum et vestis et, si credere velis, numen ipsum secreto lacu abluitur – “Afterwards the car, the vestments, and, if you like to believe it, the divinity herself, are purified in a secret lake.”
Traditionally, the feast also was a time to indulge in sexual desires, which were supposed to be suppressed during the following period fasting. Before Lent began, all rich food and drink were consumed in what became a giant celebration that involved the whole community, and is thought to be the origin of Carnival.
In many Christian sermons and texts, the example of a vessel is used to explain Christian doctrine: “the nave of the church of baptism”, “the ship of Mary”, etc. The writings show that processions with ship-like carts were held and lavish feasts were celebrated on the eve of Lent or the greeting of spring in the early Middle Ages.
The Lenten period of the liturgical calendar, the six weeks directly before Easter, was historically marked by fasting, study, and other pious or penitential practices. During Lent, no parties or celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fat, and sugar.
While Christian festivals such as Corpus Christi were Church-sanctioned celebrations, Carnival was also a manifestation of European folk culture. In the Christian tradition, fasting is to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert, according to the New Testament, and also to reflect on Christian values.
It was a time for catechumens (those converting to Christianity) to prepare for baptism at Easter.
Carnival in the Middle Ages took not just a few days, but almost the entire period between Christmas and the beginning of Lent. In those two months, Christian populations used their several holidays as an outlet for their daily frustrations.
The most famous Carnivals of Italy are held in Venice, Viareggio, and Ivrea.
The Carnival in Venice was first recorded in 1268. Its subversive nature is reflected in Italy’s many laws over the centuries attempting to restrict celebrations and the wearing of masks. Carnival celebrations in Venice were halted after the city fell under Austrian control in 1798, but were revived in the late 20th century.
The month-long Carnival of Viareggio is characterized mainly by its parade of floats and masks caricaturing popular figures. In 2001, the town built a new “Carnival citadel” dedicated to Carnival preparations and entertainment.
The Carnival of Ivrea is famous for its “Battle of the Oranges” fought with fruit between the people on foot and the troops of the tyrant on carts, to remember the wars of the Middle Ages.
In the most part of the Archdiocese of Milan, the Carnival lasts four more days, ending on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, because of the Ambrosian Rite.
In Sardinia, the Carnival (in Sardinian languageCarrasecare or Carrasegare) varies greatly from the one in the mainland of Italy: due to its close relation to the Dionysian Rites, the majority of the Sardinian celebrations features not only feasts and parades but also crude fertility rites such as bloodsheds to fertilize the land, the death and the resurrection of the Carnival characters and representations of violence and torture. The typical characters of the Sardinian Carnival are zoomorphic and/or androgynous, such as the Mamuthones and Issohadores from Mamoiada, the Boes and Merdules from Ottana and many more. The Carnival is celebrated with street performances that are typically accompanied by Sardinian dirges called attittidus, meaning literally “cry of a baby when the mother doesn’t want nursed him/her anymore” (from the word titta meaning breasts).
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We celebrate Danish traditions during our church year such as Fastelavn at lent (a Carnival for the kids at the beginning of the Lenten season), a Harvest Service in Fall and preparing for Advent and Christmas with a Klippe-Klistre (Cut & Paste Decorations) in late November. Our Danish history and heritage is continuously incorporated into our services and events through the year and its seasons.
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Carnival celebrations, usually referred to as Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday” in French), were first celebrated in the Gulf Coast area, but now occur in many states. Customs originated in the onetime French colonial capitals of Mobile (now in Alabama)
, New Orleans (Louisiana), and Biloxi (Mississippi), all of which have celebrated for many years with street parades and masked balls. Other major American cities with celebrations include Washington, D.C.;St.
Louis, Missouri;San Francisco and San Diego, California;
Galveston, Texas; and Pensacola,Tampa, and Orlando in Florida.
The most widely known, elaborate, and popular US events are in New Orleans where Carnival season is referred to as Mardi Gras. Krewes organize parades, balls, and other activities starting with Phunny Phorty Phellows streetcar parade on Twelfth Night and ending with the closing of Bourbon Street at midnight on Fat Tuesday. It is often called “the greatest free party on earth”. Many other Louisiana cities such as Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette, Mamou, Houma, and Thibodaux, most of which were under French control at one time or another, also hold Carnival celebrations. On the prairie country northwest of Lafayette, Louisiana, the Cajuns celebrate the traditional Courir de Mardi Gras, which has its roots in celebrations from rural Medieval France.
Carnival is celebrated in New York City in Brooklyn. As in the UK, the timing of Carnival split from the Christian calendar and is celebrated on Labor Day Monday, in September.
It is called the Labor Day Carnival, West Indian Day Parade, or West Indian Day Carnival, and was founded by immigrants from Trinidad. That country has one of the largest Caribbean Carnivals. In the mid twentieth century, West Indians moved the event from the beginning of Lent to the Labor Day weekend.
Carnival is one of the largest parades and street festivals in New York, with over one million attending. The parade, which consists of steel bands, floats, elaborate Carnival costumes, and sound trucks, proceeds along Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood.
Starting in 2021, the Slovenian-American community located in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood of Cleveland began hosting a local version of Kurentovanje, the Carnival event held in the city of Ptuj, Slovenia.