In ancient Greece long before Christianity, Pagans had wild Saturnalia (festival of Saturn) celebrations centered around winter and spring solstices, to mark the end of the Autumn planting season during which excessive drinking and loud music are allowed, people played games of dice to choose a monarch of festival, Saturnalia survived under Roman emperors, slaves were permitted to wear colorful clothes and did not have to work, Rome was the lively center of the Carnival at that time.
With Christianity it was decided to incorporate the popular tradition into the new faith , it’s said that the word Carnival can be traced back to the medieval Latin “ Carnelevarium” which means “remove the meat” it was a final festivity before Lent during which the Roman Catholics fasted abstained from eating meat.
Masters and slaves, rulers and peasants participated in this yearly phenomenon where people were revitalized in the harsh times of the middle ages with this half religious half secular festival providing an excuse for excesses of drinking and fun!
During Renaissance carnival was related to the idea of protestation where people acted freely without punishment and artists expressed themselves through poetry and songs, this Euphoria was their escape from reality.
The greatest Flemish painter Peter Bruegel presented two sides of contemporary life in his painting “the fight between carnival and Lent”
Where Lent is representative of Catholicism and carnival represents the Lutheran movement and the delights of self indulgence.
Celebrations of Carnival spread across Europe to the Americas carried by European colonists, fancy balls were held by the wealthy where they used masks , wigs and nice dresses ,and African slaves used to organize their own parties as well using their own folklore ,the Indians of the Americas had their Areito ceremony performed by the” Taino” people of the Caribbean related to the Arawaken’s, its purpose was for the living to communicate with the spirit world through dancing and music and to celebrate the planting of yucca, their chiefs wore decorated masks, dancers and singers shared ritual food and drink ,they brought their tradition of parading through villages wearing costumes and masks believing this can bring good future and heal problems and chill angry dead relatives, using feathers to grow spiritually, it was known that carnival can’t be celebrated without feathers!
In Curacao the characteristics of the Dutch colonists all along with the immigrants who came to work on the island and the middle class merged together in one big national cultural carnival that became the most important manifestation of Curacao.
One of the well known carnival celebrations is in New Orleans under the name “Mardi-Gras” or fat Tuesday, it dated back to 1699 when a French explorer arrived at the Mississippi river and named the spot “point du Mardi Gras” because that same day the holiday was celebrated back in his native country .
From Venice to Curacao, from Rio to New Orleans the week before the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday – Easter Sunday) is punctuated with colors, music and parades, it is universal festive for all people connected under the spirit of freedom and equality, it’s a way to express the power of individuals and their rich cultural traditions, UNESCO has declared the Carnival as a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.
© Reinshe 2015