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If you enjoy music and dancing, have you ever thought about going to a carnival?

The Rio Carnival Brazil

A marvellous experience of wonderful costumes, bright colours and energetic dancers’ carnival is a fantastic experience which everyone should encounter at least once in their lifetime.

Most carnivals can be traced back to historical and or religious roots and below we have listed some of the most famous ones.

Bringing together both Portuguese and African influences Rio Carnival is one of the most famous in the world. Held just before lent in the month of February the samba schools spend the whole year preparing for the Champions Parade. The floats are spectacular with the dances choreographed to each out dance each other with everyone collecting in the Sambadrome to show off their skills. Tickets can be bought for the Sambadrome show itself but many just enjoy the excitement of seeing the parades in the street.

In addition to the samba there are the Carnival Balls, the most famous being the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace Hotel influenced by the French masquerades, the carnival balls are costume balls each with their own theme.

In addition to the Sambadrome and the Balls you can join in the street parades and street parties and dance your way through the night.

The Trinidad Carnival in Port of Spain

Although smaller than the Rio Carnival, the Trinidad Carnival shows the Caribbean at its best and you can see the historical mix of Spanish, French and British influence. Unlike Rio Trinidad actively encourage you to join in the fun, Mas Bands short for “Masquerader bands” each have their own colours and themes, and anyone can apply to join one of these bands and participate in the action. You can participate either by purchasing one of the Mas Band costumes and dancing at the events or if you are a musician you can apply to play an instrument with the band. Early applications are advisable as the most popular bands get filled very quickly. The bands all focus on different themes but remember that which ever band you decide to join the costume supplied will conceal very little, so you need to be a very confident and outgoing person to participate or maybe just have a few drinks of rum before the event starts!!!

Participation is not compulsory, and you can also have a great time just watching the fun and joining in the street parades and parties. Many of the hotels have their own parties during carnival so it is a good idea to check out the events offered at the various local hotels.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

Probably the biggest party in the USA, Krewes organise the processions and floats which have different themes to the ones found in Rio and Trinidad based on pagan celebrations of spring and fertility and then adopting the Christian traditions.

Originating from New Orleans French roots the Mardi Gras was established in the 1830’s and Krewes arrived in 1857 based on a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus. The themes are often satirical and intended to be comical as well as those that are visually appealing. Each Krewe has a king and Queen but because by law every member of the krewe must wear a mask the identity of each king and Queen is often not known.

The Mardi Gras is aimed at the whole family, with King Cakes being baked with a small ornament inside to be handed out at the festivities as well as bead tossing.

This carnival begins 47 days before Easter culminating in Mardi Gras day itself but the lead up to this day showcases music, art, and the many costumed parades. Colours have great meaning with purple representing justice, green stands for faith and gold signifies power.

Festivals in Europe

There is a large choice of festivals to attend in Europe, many of which can be traced back to religious origins and all of which have unique themes. Fete Du Citron celebrates the region of Menton near the French Alps which is famous for producing lemons. The themes change each year but are all based around lemons and flowers grown in the region.

At the Venice carnival the emphasis is on wearing masks with the most beautiful mask being judged in a competition by a group of international fashion and costume designers, so this is a very serious competition. 

If you are looking for something bizarre, how about burying the Sardine in Catalonia? A weeklong party in Sitges, one of the gay capitals of Europe hosts drag events such as the debauchery parade exhibiting many risqué floats, whilst during the extermination parade drag queens dressed in black wave goodbye to another year of parties. As if that is not strange enough the festival concludes with a large effigy of a sardine being carried to the beach and burned whilst people enjoy barbeque parties.

Another oddity can be found in Wallonia, the french speaking part of Belgium where the boys and men of the town dress up in waxed masks, hats with Ostrich festivals and identical suits for the Carnival de Binche which is so extraordinary that UNESCO has listed it as a part of the heritage of humanity. There is the opportunity for the people of the town to be a Gille, Paysanne, Pierrot or Harlequin character. Being a Gille is very sought after and the roles are chosen early with the the Gilles getting the opportunity to throw ripe oranges at the public whilst dancing and drinking goes on throughout the night.

Notting Hill Carnival London

Celebrating the diversity to be found in the United Kingdom the Notting Hill Carnival is celebrated over the August bank holiday. Not just a celebration of music and dance there is a big emphasis on food. This community organised event is one of the highlights of August in London and show cases so much of the Caribbean culture that has become a part of London society. Not just parades there are live music stages, steel and samba bands and many delicious Caribbean food stalls to choose from.

The biggest carnival outside of Rio, the Notting Hill carnival evolves every year with a community emphasis on families, friendliness, and enjoyment.

Like the carnival in Trinidad, the parades centre around the Mas Bands which stem from the emancipation of slaves when slaves would ridicule their masters in the Caribbean by copying the Victorian clothes that their masters wore to balls in the hot Caribbean sun.

As you can see all these festivals and carnivals are based on the rich history and culture of each country and provide a fascinating insight into each individual destination. If you would like to plan a carnival trip contact us here.

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