Well, it’s that time of year again – in the coming days leading up to Ash Wednesday (March 5, this year), the start of the season of Lent before Easter, the parades and street parties of Carnaval will be breaking out on nearly every continent – some places more spectacularly than others. For many it’s synonymous with Rio, but others also put on a pretty great show:
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil The biggest, splashiest, deal of them all, with millions in attendance, “samba schools” vying for supremacy in the Sambodrome, and lots of feathers, sequins, over-the-top floats, and hard, nearly naked bodies.
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil There are various Carnaval celebrations in Brazil, but this (below right) is the most famous besides Rio – also enormous but organised differently, maybe not quite as glitzy and some would say more spontaneous – plus it takes over a good chunk of the downtown instead of a single stadium.
Barranquilla, Colombia This large city just down the coast from Cartagena puts on the world’s second-largest Carnaval after Rio, UNESCO World Heritage-certified with its own particular traditions, peculiarities, and zaniness, from political satire to men spray-painted gold.
New Orleans, USA Up in the States they call it Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), since it was established by francophones, and its a rollicking party indeed, with some of the most elaborate floats you’ve ever seen – and of course drinking that’s epic even for the city knowns as “The Big Easy.”
Venice, Italy Moving over to Europe, perhaps the most elegant of all is the Carnevale (top left) that evokes the glamour of centuries past centuries amid the chilly, misty piazze and campi of the atmospheric old city, with those classic costumes and ghostly masks.
Dusseldorf, Germany Karneval in Düsseldorf is a colourful free-for-all dating back to 1825, with parades, parties, people in barmy outfits running around yelling “helau!” and generally acting like clowns. And the activities actually start way back on November 11 – not for nothing do some call this “the fifth season of the year” around here.
And now for Spain’s top three!
Cádiz, Andalusia One of the three top Carnaval blowouts celebrated in Spain plunges this Andalusian city into nonstop partying, but instead of flashy floats, costumes, and spectacle, the focus is on comedy, irreverence, and parody by groups called chirogotas, but also other musical groups, performances, contests, outrageous dress-up, and more.
Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands Spain’s internationally best known Carnaval (left), includes parades, dances, a Carnaval queen selection, various contests, and a satiric closing event called “the burial of the sardine.” Since 1987 the event has been themed – last year was Bollywood, this year cartoons.
Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands Tenerife’s neighbour also puts on quite a production, with many of the same elements, including a huge parade called the Gran Cabalgata. Except here there’s not just a carnival queen crowned but a carnival drag queen, too. This year apparently the theme is “World of Fantasy” – because, you know, up till now maybe it just hasn’t been fantastic enough?