While February is considered as the Love Month, it also signals the start of the carnival season in various places in Europe and South America. Most of the carnivals held early in the year are tied to religious celebrations, particularly the week before the beginning of Lent or Ash Wednesday. Here’s a look at some of the most spectacular carnivals in Europe and America.
Venice Carnevale – Italy
Flights to Venice
For several centuries, Venice has been the centre of arts and culture. The development of art in the city is almost incomparable. Venetians are known for their fantastic and gorgeous blown glass art, book publishing, Venetian cuisine, Venetian architecture and their masquerade parties.
The mother of all the carnivals in the city is the Venice Carnevale. It is famous for its heady mix of medieval atmosphere, masked balls and unbelievable costumes. The masks are the most important feature of the carnival. They are made to represent various personas, either as a full mask or as a half mask. The modern versions are colourfully, intricately and gorgeously decorated. As the Carnival starts, you’ll find yourself in the company of crowds of people wearing wigs, elaborately designed and decorated Rococo costumes, with the women wearing long, voluminous dresses and the traditional masks. Some people cannot resist and will also have costumes designed for their pets.
The Venetian Carnevale takes you back to the medieval times and there’s so much to see and do. There is a contest among the mask makers of Venice and people are encouraged to vote for the best ones. The highlight of the Carnival are the masked balls.
Various mini events are part of the whole Carnival celebration. There is an event called the “Flight of an Angel” or “Volo dell’Angelo” wherein a winner in the beauty pageant rides the zipline from the campanile located in St. Mark’s Square. Most of the key events are held at the city’s historic shipyard, the Arsenale. Activities abound each day, with modern and classical concerts, search for best costumes and masks, reenactments and water-borne pageants. There are food fests, a separate carnival for children, parties and several masked balls and the traditional “Festa delle Marie,” a parade that pays homage to 12 Venetian ladies dressed in period costumes. The Carnival ends with the Grand Ball.
Barcelona Carnival – Spain
Flights to Barcelona
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, has emerged as a huge tourist draw, bringing in thousands and thousands of tourists to the city, to enjoy its great weather, its friendly people, the great cuisine, flamenco dancing, its beaches and its rich history and cultural heritage. It is a centre of fashion, arts, media, entertainment, education and culture. Like most nations, the city holds many festivals and traditional events, wherein majority of the populace as well as visitors, participate. This February, the city will once again hold the Barcelona Carnival, which is the last week before the beginning of Lent, when Christians practice abstinence, traditionally.
The Barcelona Carnival, which is called “Carnestoltes” is focused on gluttony and debauchery, and lots of food will be consumed during this particular week. It is inspired by ancient events and Barcelona wants to stick to a festival that is both traditional and historic. Thirty carnival parades are expected to happen in Barcelona’s various neighbourhoods.
The annual event starts with Fat Thursday or Jueves Ladero, wherein the King of Revelry is announced. Fat Thursday is the day when everyone starts to fill themselves with plenty of food and many food competitions are going to be held. The day is also called “Dirty Thursday” or “Greasy Thursday” and the meaning is literal – because of the amount of food, most of them greasy that will be consumed.The King’s arrival is ushered with a big parade in the afternoon of Thursday, as this signals the commencement of the carnival. The king, called “Rei Carnestoltes” will be coming with his ambassadors and giant characters. It is a spectacular sight with all the specially-designed characters that are more than life-size and the fantastic and colourful costumes. You’ll see jugglers, floats, bands, singers and dancers all throughout the parade
Saturday is the grand day for several parades in various locations within Barcelona. The celebration is heightened by La Taronjada, wherein players in the Carnival and the public pelt each other with orange balloons and confetti, to symbolize the actual oranges that were thrown in years past. The event is culminated with a masquerade dance. On Ash Wednesday, the Barcelona Carnival ends with the Burying of the Sardine, where a large effigy of a sardine heads the procession accompanied by participants and a brass band. At the designated location, an upstanding member of the community reads a satirical will of the sardine, after which the effigy is set on fire. This symbolizes spiritual cleansing and the start of the Lenten fasting and abstinence.
Cologne Carnival – Germany
Flights to Germany
Cologne has an endless string of attractions, led by its famous cathedral, the Kölner Dom, whose twin richly filigreed spires cut through the city’s skyline. The fourth largest city in Germany is one of Rhineland’s major cultural centre that houses galleries by the hundred and over 30 museums. As a Catholic city, it observes several religious festivals. One of the largest is the Cologne Carnival that culminates on Ash Wednesday. Just like the other carnivals held before Lent, this is also characterised by merriment and indulgence, with plenty of food, dances, masked balls, parades, concerts and competitions.
Each year, three people, called the Dreigestirn, are selected to lead the festivities. They would be called the Jungfrau (virgin), Prinz (prince) and Bauer (farmer). The prince, called “His Madness” is the highest leader. During the parade on Shrove Monday he wears a purple jacket, white undershorts, bejeweled girdle, a golden chain and a crown decorated with peacock tail. He has a scepter on his right hand and a slapstick on his left.
The farmer or “His Heftyness” keeps the keys of the city, and has a sword and a flail, symbols of truthfulness and loyalty to the empire. The virgin (usually a male dressed as a female) is called “Her Loveliness” symbolises Colonia. She holds a hand mirror and wears a mural crown. The carnival starts with the Women’s Carnival Day on a Thursday, when women wear fancy dresses early in the morning. They will all gather at the Alter Markt at 10 in the morning to officially start the carnival, with the three Dreigestirn, which will be followed by a historical play and procession accompanied by dances and music. Parties and masked balls are held late in the afternoon and in the evening. Friday to Sunday are reserved for plenty of masked balls, processions and lots of parties everywhere you turn.
The culmination of the celebration is Rose Monday, where you will see a huge parade, with numerous artistically-designed colourful floats, magnificent costumes, characters in gigantic proportions, bands, dancers and music. People on the floats throw sweets to spectators who are mostly in fancy dresses as well. Little flower bouquets are given as well as light kisses exchanged with everyone. The celebration will continue with parties and gatherings in pubs, restaurants and halls. Parades in fancy dresses follow on Tuesday, ending with a burning of a life-sized straw figure called the “Nubbel.” With all the partying, people are sure to have massive hangovers, which the locals traditionally soothe with fish dinners on Ash Wednesday, the end of the carnival.
Rio De Janeiro Carnival – Brazil
Flights to Rio De Janeiro
Brazil’s second largest city is impressive and filled to the brim with wonderful beaches, historic sites and landmarks, soccer, and people with an infectious zest for life. The land of samba is also famous for the iconic Christ the Redeemer, the Sugarloaf Mountain, the Sambadrome, Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Beach, and of course, the Carnival in Rio.
The Rio de Janeiro Carnival is one of the most famous, colourful, well-attended carnivals in the world. This year it begins on 13th February and ends on 18th February. It’s five days of merry-making, filled with music, samba and some of the most fabulous, glittering, imaginative and intricately-designed costumes you will find. The world’s biggest carnival attracts about two million people a day. Every day during the carnival is party day, with street bands and street parties in various locations. It officially starts with the delivery of the keys to the city to the Fat King, King Momo. As soon as he sambas, then everyone must start to samba as well. King Momo opens all the samba parades organized for the season. A Carnival Queen and Princesses are also chosen.
The parade, with all its glitter, overflowing fun and exuberance and outlandish artistry is actually a tightly-organized fierce competition among samba schools, prepared months ahead with plenty of rehearsals. It follows very strict guidelines and every participant has a role to play. It is one huge show that is highly orchestrated. The role of the participant is designated by the costume he or she wears. A samba school chooses a special theme for the year, special colours and the songs to be used. The theme tells a story. A school could also have about eight floats, to separate the sections of the school. Each school will usually field from 3,000 to 5,000 participants, so with the number of schools participating in any given year, you can imagine how large the Rio Carnival could be. Setting aside all the behind-the-scenes activities that make up this world-famous carnival in Rio, it is something that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime.
Viareggio Carnival, Italy
Flights to Italy
Viareggio is a commune and city in Northern Tuscany, renowned for its floricultural, fishing, manufacturing and shipbuilding industries. It lies along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast and is the second largest city in the Lucca, next to Lucca itself. It is also popular for its four-kilometre long public beaches and about 3.7-kilometres of private beaches. Crafting papier-mâché is a craft that the city is known for, particularly highlighted during their celebration of the Viareggio Carnival.
The carnival dates back to 1873, when the bourgeoisie expressed their discontent on the high taxes levied on them with a masquerade event with floats wherein protesting citizens rode, hiding their identities behind masks. The event also is a competition among the participating floats. Through the years the event got bigger and better and the floats became huge, more colourful, intricate and animated.
Central to the carnival are the papier-mâché floats that include the symbol of the carnival and an official mask known as “Burlamacco” that was invented and designed in 1930 by Tuscan artist Uberto Boneti. The burlamacco looks like a figure of a clown, dressed in a red and white jumper with a black cape that echoes the traditional colours of the umbrellas in the beaches of Viareggio.
For 2015, the carnival parades will be held on all Sundays of February and will end on Saturday, 28 February. Notable is that all the floats, as well as the masked dancers are competing against each other. The huge papier-mâché on the floats traditionally are caricatures of international showbiz, cultural and political personalities. The parades showcase the artistry of Italian artists, the use of new technologies to animate the paper sculptures and the scenographic effects to come up with grand and meaningful scenarios.