From the Latin “carne” meaning meat (like carnivore) and the “vale” meaning “farewell,” the word signifies the celebrations before Lent in Catholic societies when meat cannot be eaten. A carnival is the point when we say “goodbye meat!”
2. Mardi Gras is the last day of carnival
Traditionally, Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of the carnival season. Also known as Shrove Tuesday and Pancake Day, most societies use this last day to eat eggs and meat before the first day of Lent.
3. One of the Largest and Longest Traditional Carnivals is in New York
The West Indian Carnival Parade is held every Labor Day weekend in Brooklyn, New York and attracts anywhere from 1 to 3 million people. The parade celebrates traditional carnival celebrations with a mix of French Catholic celebrations and African traditions of the Caribbean freed men. Rather than holding the celebration at the traditional time when the weather is colder, the organizers moved it to before the Halloween season for warmth.
4. Food Fights have been involved…
In Spain, Portugal, and parts of Southern France, carnival celebrations include throwing various fruit, vegetables, and eggs as a way to spread fruitfulness for the upcoming season. Thankfully, modern versions of the festival use plastic and wax fruit but watch out for a broom or wooden spoon that’s still used as a handheld weapons.
5. And sacrifices!
The idea of a scapegoat exists in many carnival traditions across the globe. At the time of carnival, the priest or other community figure lays the sins and blame of the community on an animal and that animal is sacrificed to absolve the sins. The animal is traditionally a goat, but in some cultures is a pig, cat, or bull. Humans have also been used as sacrifices, although not often to death. One person is chosen to bear the insults and taunts of the community as a way to purge the community of such evil deeds.
In a way, you could say the carnival season has always been a way for global communities to purge themselves of wants and desires, of bad feelings and evil thoughts, so they could be better the rest of the year. It is also a time to celebrate all that we have to prepare for the sacrifice we may have to make until the weather warms and crops come in. However your community celebrates the season, remember to be safe and have fun, and laissez les bons temps rouler!
Many carnivals have been used in books and movies, available at the library, including in no particular order:
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and the movie starring Jason Robards
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein
Joyland by Stephen King
Big starring Tom Hanks
Know about a carnival in a book or a movie that’s not listed here? Know of a carnival tradition we missed? What does your family do for carnival? Let us know in the comments.