Carnival is an official Catholic holiday celebrated in numerous countries including Brazil, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Jamaica, Malta, Croatia and Mexico that kicks off a five-day celebration before the Catholic lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Beginning the weekend before Lent, Carnival is traditionally celebrated with extreme enthusiasm with parades, floats, costumes, music and dancing in the streets. In this post, we’re going to specifically look at the historical and modern examples of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Venice, Italy.
Carnival celebrations in Brazil have a history as deep as Italian festivities. Traced back to the year 1723, Rio de Janeiro’s carnival has deeply religious roots that were heavily entangled in class relations. According to Rio’s tourism website, the party was originally started as a celebration to honor the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. Known as the feast of Saturnalia, it was a time for both slave and master to give thanks to the gods through drinking and partying.
When it first reached Rio, brought by immigrants from islands of the coast of Portugal, carnival was first a soaking wet affair. Called entrudo by the Portuguese, this celebration was a time when people ran through the streets soaking each other with buckets of water. Oftentimes, when the water ran out, partygoers would dump whatever liquid they had whether it be urine or mud, which (unsurprisingly) usually ended in large-scale street fights. Though a considerable departure from the feast of Saturnalia, entrudo was also marked by a time where normal social conventions between slaves and masters were not enforced.
Throughout the 1800s, the concept of carnival was constantly evolving but incorporated more events like parades or great societies- a celebration where even the Emperor and his aristocracy joined in music and drinking all night. Carnival took on the structure that we are most familiar with organized masquerade balls beginning the 1840s. In 1907, cars were first introduced into the parades and covered in streamers and confetti. This event, known as corso, is considered to be the precursor to the elaborate floats we see during carnival today.
Complete with ornate costumes, dancing, excessive alcohol consumption and more than 2 million guests, Carnival (Or Carnaval in Portuguese) in modern-day Rio De Janeiro could be described as the equivalent of a week long, multi-billion dollar block party. Rio de Janeiro is well known for being one of the carnival capitals of the world and is largely hosted and operated by the Brazilian poor community who live in over-crowded and desolate areas called favelas.
These favelas consist of housing made from scrap materials like cardboard, and members of these communities spend months in preparation for Carnival-the biggest outlet of the year to forget their troubles and celebrate life in a week long cultural festival. This preparation includes costume designing and the practicing of choreography at neighboring samba schools where they prepare for the samba competition that is a huge part of the festivities. Costumes for these performances can weigh as much as two hundred pounds!
Since its inception, Rio’s carnaval has gained international attention garnering tourism visits around numbers of 500 thousand. This surge in the popularity of Rio’s carnevale is also evident in the astounding number of social media participation by Instagram and Facebook users around the world. This year’s carnival alone has amassed an astounding 534 million interactions from around 49 million Facebook users.
More evidence on social media’s new role as part of the modern Rio Carnaval experience, can be found in a project launched as part of Rio 2015; a Tinder party called Match Comigo was launched to facilitate dates and hook ups for those in Rio looking for a “good time”. This too was a largely successful venture resulting in the popular coverage of news aggregation sites like msnbc and Yahoo!News.
A large part of Rio’s carnival is the presence of blocos or street performance bands that are used to mobilize the crowds. Since 2011, social media has been playing a large role in the gathering of large crowds that come to listen and watch specific bands that get publicity boosts via their respective Facebook pages. This practice of self-promotion via Twitter and Facebook have been especially helpful for the popularity of new blocos and popular artists during carnival.
Carnevale in Venice, Italy is one of the oldest types of Carnevale in the world. Beginning as early as the the 5th century, Carnevale began making a name for itself in northern Italy. In 1094, the festival was mentioned in a Venetian charter, and by 1269, Carnevale was officially approved by the Senate to become a holiday. Venetian Carnevale officially falls on the day before Lent/Fat Tuesday, though unofficially the celebration has usually lasted much longer.
The Carnevale of old was very different from the Carnevale you see in Venice today. Back then, the most important part of the event was wearing a mask. This was because the masks created anonymity. During Carnevale, everyone was equal. There were no peasants and nobles. Everything from politics, to feuds between major families, to work stopped during Carnevale. Carnevale got rid of class limitations—wearing masks allowed the people to do and say whatever they wanted without getting in trouble.
Over time, Venetian Carnevale became known as an event not to miss. While it was attractive enough to be able to let loose and have fun no matter status, Carnevale also had cultural significance. During the celebrations, many extravagant balls were held, and many operas and comedies were created by artists. In fact, it is thought that improvisation comedy originated from Carnevale entertainment. These festivities brought in people from all over, and allowed them all to let loose and have fun no matter who they were.
Beautiful costumes, peculiar masks, delicious pastries, and entertaining performances are some of the many reasons why tourists are attracted to the city of Venice during Carnevale each year. The celebration lasts nearly three weeks starting in late January and ending in mid-February. The celebration begins with an event called il volo dell’angelo, more commonly known as the “flight of the angel.” Every year, they choose someone prominent to be the angel and they swing on a harness for the crowd to admire. Afterwards, children and families in Venice dress up in costumes, run down the streets, and hand out confetti and candy to one another.
In recent years, the Carnevale in Venice attracts many tourists to visit from all around the world just to see the ornate costumes and masks that natives wear during the celebration. Even though the Venetian tradition is rooted from the Catholic holiday considered Fat Tuesday, nearly everyone from Venice takes time to plan their costumes accordingly for this grand celebration. Masked faces dance up and down the streets of St. Mark’s Square while onlookers observe and cheer. Many different events take place for anyone to attend; however many of the tickets for these events are expensive. Hotels and other locals always encourage tourists to dress up as well, so there are many shops along the stretch where anyone can buy outfits and masks. They host a costume contest every year to see who has the most elegant outfit. Along with the contest, at any time you will find friendly faces and fireworks all across Venice.
This is a modern-day celebration where anyone can join in for the fun. Noted as one of the most anticipated events of the year in Venice, tourists are never disappointed in how successful this celebration truly is.
From Mardi Gras in New Orleans to Carnevale in Venice, this festivity is one in which is celebrated all over the world. Hundreds of thousands of people come together to celebrate this affair with masks, costumes, food, and drink. Carnevale, or Mardi Gras, will only continue to grow as time goes on, so be sure to visit at least one Carnevale in your lifetime!
Written By: Katherine Kilian, Olivia Peterkin, Ashton, Sarah Mosier