Carnival is a public celebration which takes place in many cities and towns in many countries around the world, in February or March each year. Carnival can sometimes last for several weeks. In some places there is only one day of celebration. There are often street parades, bands, costumes and many people wear masks. Carnival is linked to religious traditions in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and it is also linked to the folk traditions in every different place where it happens.
Nowadays many cities and towns around the world celebrate Carnival for a week or more. The final day of the celebration is Mardi Gras, when there is often a parade. In some cities the Mardi Gras parade is held on the weekend before Lent begins, rather than on the Tuesday, so as not to disturb the business and traffic of the town.
In some towns such as the Belgian town of Binche the preparations for the Carnival are complex and start many weeks before Carnival takes place, with most of the town’s people taking part in some way. The Carnaval de Binche is listed with UNESCO as an event of great historic importance because it has been held there in almost the same way for more than 500 years.
Carnival is celebrated differently around the world, but there are some things that are similar:
* There is often dressing-up in fancy costumes, which often include masks.
* There is usually a street parade of people and musicians. There may also be floats which are decorated vehicles.
* There is often loud noises, bright colours and scary faces. These are to frighten evil spirits away while people are fasting. A traditional reason that the performers wear masks is so that the evil spirits don’t know who they are.
In the Carneval of Rio de Janeiro, which is one of the biggest and most famous in the world, a major feature is the glamorous costumes as both men and women wear bright colours and wonderful headdresses to dance down the street to the sound of many bands. In Rio there are many very large and expensive decorated floats.
In New Orleans the bands are one of the most important parts of the Carnival celebrations. In Dusseldorf in Germany, on of the features of the Carnival parades are the enormous models of politicians and other well-known people. In Sydney, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras which started out as a parade for Sydney’s homosexual community, now includes exhibitions, live theatre and competitions, and stretches over two weeks.
In Venice the Carnival was celebrated from December 26 until Lent began. During that time, people were allowed to disguise themselves by wearing masks in the street. In the 1930s this was forbidden by the Italian Government, but in 1980 a mask-makers shop was set up in Venice again. Soon the old tradition was brought back, and now many people dress in costume and wear masks for two weeks before Lent begins.
In Brussels in Belgium, the main Carnival procession is held in the Grande Place, the town square in front of the Gothic Town Hall with its huge tower. Every part of the procession is ruled by a tradition, but some of the traditions are so old that no-one remembers what they mean anymore. At the beginning of the procession is a large group of people dressed in beautiful costumes of silk and velvet, who act out an historic scene of the coming of the King of Spain and his royal court to Brussels 500 years ago. When they have taken their seats, there comes an amazing procession which includes stilt walkers, fire eaters, Goldilocks with a dancing bear, a mad camel, a wizard, lots of men in huge feathery headdresses, and the Archangel Michael whose job is to frighten the Devil. These characters are traditional to Brussels. In every city, the characters that take part are different.