What do colorful masks, lively Samba music, and cat-bashing have in common? Carnival, of course!

With the end of February comes the celebration of Carnival, one of the most popular traditional festivals in history. While historians disagree over the exact beginning of the Carnival, the origins of the festival began in the early 1800s as a European tradition of indulging on the day before Lent begins. The word “carnival” derives from the Medieval Latin name “carnelevarium” (or “remove the flesh”), which refers to the religious prohibition of eating meat during the 40 days of fast during Lent.

As the tradition became more widespread, it became less of a religious ritual and more of a cultural statement, with celebrations growing in both size and grandeur. By the late 1800s, street musicians, themed costumes, and dancing were mainstays, traditions that are still alive and well in modern festivals. Here’s our favorite destinations to celebrate Carnival:

 

Brazil

A week-long wild party characterizes Brazil’s Carnival, known as the Mardi Gras of the Southern Hemisphere. No city celebrates with more gusto than Rio de Janeiro; today, Rio’s celebration includes over 100 block parades filled with colorful costumes and extensive performances. Perhaps most famous is the city’s Samba Parade, a fabulous display of local talent where Rio Samba schools compete for prizes. While this joyful affair only exists in February, you can get a feel for its unique spirit on South America Adventure: Chile, Argentina & Uruguay, where you’ll enjoy a lively samba lesson and special private Carnival show.

 

Norway

To Norwegians, Carnival, or “Fastelavn” is a time for family. Marked with a string of parades and local traditions, Norway participates in a more conventional celebration. Carnival is more of a local affair, with people celebrating with fellow townsmen and relatives. Families will sing songs, play games, and share delicious Fastelavnsbolle, cream-filled buns covered in melted chocolate. But beware: You may experience some cat-bashing (we promise, it’s not what it sounds like—at least not anymore!) In the mid-19th century, black cats were sealed inside wood barrels that were then beaten with sticks in an attempt to warn off bad luck. Today, toy cats are placed in barrels, along with a pile of colorful candy, and kids take turns trying to break open the barrel. Experience the rich culture of this region as you join us on Coastal Norway: The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage.

 

Venice

Combine the opulent costumes and elaborate masks of Carnival with the magical backdrop of Venice, and you’ve got yourself a party. Italians give their Carnival a fairy-tale twist, with beautiful masquerades that transport you back in time. While Italian Carnival was wildly famous in the 18th century, it was outlawed in 1797 and only re-appeared sporadically until its triumphant return in 1979 in an effort to honor the history of Venice. Since then, the festival has drawn thousands of masked performers each year; revelers even take to the canals for a parade on the water involving unique Carnival boats. Perhaps Venice’s most famous festival trait is its ornate handcrafted Carnival masks, a tradition that traces as far back as the 18th century. As the years went by, the creation of these masks became such an art form that today they can be purchased year-round. Extend your Magic Of The Italian Lakes & The Swiss Alps journey in Venice and find your perfect Carnival mask!

 

Spain

While Spain’s Carnival may not be as aesthetically beautiful as Venice’s or as wild as Rio’s, it is filled with a charm all its own. While each city has its own traditions, from the “hanging of the donkey” in the in the north to the intense beach fiestas in the south, Carnival in Spain is known for its vibrant costumes. Many cities will hold an election for Carnival Queen, an event where contestants wear costumes so opulent that many of them need to be supported by complex frames because they are too heavy to be worn. Music, another important part of Spanish heritage, is proudly featured in these festivals as well. Join us on Coastal Treasures of Spain, Portugal, & France and experience this rich heritage for yourself.

 

Argentina

A country filled with proud heritage, Argentina’s festivities never disappoint. Painted masks are a must for Argentina’s Carnival, a colonial tradition that was banned for several decades in the 1500s due to the high number of playful pranks it inspired (a ban that has thankfully since been lifted.) Argentina also uses the festival to celebrate the important of family, with traditions like Tincunaco ceremonies, a celebration where mothers and grandmothers unite to exchange gifts and honor the sacred bond of motherhood. Discover the bewitching soul of Argentina for yourself when you join us on South America Adventure: Chile, Argentina & Uruguay.

 

Have you experienced Carnival? Share your stories with us!