The many faces of Carnival

by Tom DeFeo

Carnival is a traditionally Catholic celebration that takes place in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, a 40 day

venice masks
Two masked figures at Venice Carnevale

period traditionally marked by peninental practices and the exclusion of meat, parties and other festivities.The first recorded Carnival took place in Italy in 1268. The origins of some of the best known traditions such as parading and masquerade balls also take root in Italian Carnival, the best known being the Venice Carnival, for its elaborate and city-wide masquerade ball.

Although today Carnival is slated as a Christian-specific celebration, some argue that it may have pre-Christian roots in earlier Roman and Greek celebrations. Many historians point to the striking resemblances to the Roman festival, Navigium Isidis, in which a parade of masked figures followed a picture of the Roman god Isis along with an adorned wooden boat (resembling a float) to the waterfront to celebrate the beginning of the sailing season.



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Carnival Parade in Rio de Janiero

No matter what its origins may be, today Carnival has blossomed into a worldwide celebration with several different variations of the event taking place in cities all over the Christian world with notable celebrations in Rio de Janiero and New Orleans. Europe in particular is home to some of the oldest and noted Carnivals in the world, and whether it’s attacking bystanders with confetti and pig blatters in Belgium or spiking doughnuts on spearheads in Hungar

carnival prague
Masopust Festival, Prague

y, many have acquired their own unique traditions.


In Bohemia, the Carnival equivalent,Masopust festival, takes place during the days leading up to Ash Wednesday . In old Czech masopusttranslates into “meat fast.” While practices may vary region to region, it often concludes with a pork feast along with traditional masks and costumes. So this Tuesday get out and celebrate, however it may be custom, with the rest of Europe and the world.

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