The Origins and History of Carnival

Max. D Gray
By Max. D Gray. February 17, 2022
The Origins and History of Carnival

During carnival celebrations, the streets of cities around the world are dominated for a few days by masks, costumes, parades, parties and a little debauchery. Carnival is here to break the monotony of winter and announce it is coming to an end. Today, carnival is best known for its spectacular costumes and the living out of fantasy, but it actually comes from ancient cultures that date back thousands of years.

This oneHOWTO article, we will explain how and why Carnival is celebrated. We will also discuss the three most famous carnivals in the world (Venice, Brazil, and Ecuador).

You may also be interested in: What Is Carnival When and Why Is It Celebrated?
  1. Why is Carnival celebrated?
  2. Carnival in Spain
  3. Carnival in Venice
  4. Carnival in Brazil
  5. Carnival in Ecuador

Why is Carnival celebrated?

Although there are different theories about the history of Carnival, all scholars agree that it is an ancient celebration that could even have originated more than 5,000 years ago. Below you will find the different cultures and eras associated with the origins of this celebration:

  • The Sumerian: the ancient Sumerian peasant people performed mask dances around bonfires in the days around harvest time to express their gratitude to the Gods.

  • Ancient Rome: Carnival also has its roots in the celebrations that took place in ancient Rome in honor of Saturn. Saturnalia was a festival in which dances and banquets galore were held for a few days in the streets and squares of Rome.

  • The Middle Ages: Carnival as we know it dates back to the Middle Ages and is part of the remains of a pre-Christian festival. It is believed that Carnival took place two days before Lent, the time when the Catholic Church calls for fasting and abstinence in preparation for Easter. Historically, the word carnival derives from the Latin words 'carnem' and 'levare', meaning 'to remove the flesh'. While Lent represents reflection and sacrifice, Carnival is a time of pleasure and debauchery. Masks provided anonymity for dances and parties and allowed friends and strangers to celebrate together. There were many opportunities for people from all walks of life to be naughty and sarcastically criticize any problem affecting society at the time.

Carnival in Spain

Over the years, Carnival spread throughout the world, merging with the traditions and customs of each place. In Spain, too, carnival events were held in numerous places during the Middle Ages, with varying degrees of intensity.
Carnival had its peak during the Renaissance, when dressing up and wearing masks was a way to enjoy complete freedom before Lent, either out of modesty or fear of punishment. Spanish masked balls were introduced during the reign of Carlos II, with the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) being the big day of Carnival.

Cadiz Carnival

The Carnival of Cadiz is considered one of the oldest and most traditional carnivals in Spain. The first carnival celebrations date back to the early 17th century.

Century. The authentic costumes of Cadiz are complemented by the traditional chirigotas that make the carnival a fun and unique event with their music made of very simple instruments and concise lyrics.

Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Carnival is also celebrated in the Canary Islands, with its original parades and the unmistakable murgas and comparsas that show all their grace and ingenuity in the various galas and shows.

The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, a festival of international tourist interest since 1980, is an explosion of color and joy. During these days, various other events take place, such as the election of the Carnival Queen, a spectacular parade in which the aspiring queens wear magnificent costumes.

The Origins and History of Carnival - Carnival in Spain

Carnival in Venice

Every year in February, thousands of visitors from all over the world come to Venice to admire the unique scenery, the masks and the traditional carnival costumes. The Venice Carnival dates back to the mid-13th century, when it was declared as a day off. However, it reached its peak in the 18th century, when the nobility took advantage of the anonymity of the masks to celebrate with the rest of the population. Masks are a prominent feature of this celebration. They can be made of leather, porcelain or with the help of original glass techniques. The original masks were rather simple in design and decoration and often had a symbolic and practical function.

If you want to create your own personal mask inspired in Venice's carnival, then keep reading this article on how to make a Venice carnival mask.

The Origins and History of Carnival - Carnival in Venice

Carnival in Brazil

In Brazil, Carnival is believed to have originated with the arrival of the first European navigators, especially the Portuguese and Spanish. Their culture quickly merged with the native culture and produced one of the most colorful, joyful and spectacular carnivals in the world. The Carnival of Rio de Janeiro is prepared throughout the year by various samba schools that parade through the streets, filling the streets with rhythm, dance, joy and life.

The Origins and History of Carnival - Carnival in Brazil

Carnival in Ecuador

Carnival in Ecuador and many of the traditional festivals of this culture go back to the agricultural cycle and harvest, a feature that is still present in this particular festival celebrated throughout the country. As everywhere, there are dances, parades with masks and costumes of all kinds. There are also carnival games where people throw flour, water and eggs at each other.

The Origins and History of Carnival - Carnival in Ecuador

If you want to read similar articles to The Origins and History of Carnival, we recommend you visit our Festivities & Celebrations category.

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The Origins and History of Carnival