Carnival is a global phenomenon celebrated with music, dance, food and parades in cities as diverse as Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans. This is a celebration that blurs racial and social barriers.

For many, it is a way to forget their problems for the time being. It also comes before Lent, the period of self-denial for Christians.


Carnival is a time of lights, parades, and decadent rituals that turn everyday life upside down. This tradition has origins in ancient pagan celebrations of the winter and spring solstices, and equinoxes. After Christianity emerged, these wild celebrations were difficult for many people to give up.

The word “carnival” comes from the Latin words carne (meat) and levare (“to leave off”). Traditionally, the Carnival season ends on Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Lent begins – a 40-day period of fasting.

Carnival traditions were carried by European conquistadors and colonists to the Americas, where they merged with local Natives’ pagan community celebrations and African slaves’ own dance rhythms and musical instruments. This mixture is why modern Carnivals are characterized by a variety of customs and traditions that reflect the diverse histories of different regions and cultures from all around the world. The Caribbean Carnival, for example, has a particularly complicated history that involves slavery and religious conversion.


Symbolism is the use of an object or action to represent something else. For example, a rose could be a symbol of romance, or the color green might symbolize wealth. In literary terms, symbolism is also used by authors to imply emotions or ideas. For instance, a blood-stained hand in Lady Macbeth might symbolize guilt or Rose’s butterfly hair comb in Titanic may be symbolic of her feelings around Jack.

The word carnival probably derives from the Latin carnis levare, meaning “to take away meat.” This is because the festivities come immediately before Lent – 40 days of sacrifice and fasting.

The merrymaking of Carnival is still popular in Europe today, particularly in Catholic southern countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Portugal and in the city of Venice. This tradition has spread to the Americas, brought by European conquistadors and colonists, and mixed with African traditions that include drumming and dancing. The resulting celebrations can be highly expressive, using irony and sarcasm to vent feelings that might otherwise be censored.


Costumes and masquerades are central to carnival. They may depict animals, sea creatures, kings and queens, celebrities, African or European culture heroes and historical figures. Cross-dressing is common, as are seductive dance moves and loud music (such as caypso in the Caribbean and samba in Brazil).

A variety of materials are used in carnival costumes. Grass, leaves, raffia, flowers, beads, animal skins, feathers and cotton are often included. The costumes are colorful and sometimes grotesque.

Costumes are purchased from carnival bands or troupes, typically based on a theme. Bands have “band launches” at which costumes are presented and people select what section they want to be in. Front line costumes tend to be the most elaborate and expensive. Curvy women should always ask the costume designers if they can make modifications for them. They also may want to bring back-up bras and high waist panties from home in case the original set becomes damaged or uncomfortable.


A traveling carnival includes a variety of activities, games and attractions. These include amusement rides, food vendors, merchandise vendors, games of chance and skill, thrill acts and animal shows. In addition, a traveling carnival may include an art show and a magic show.

One of the oldest carnival games is the coconut shy. In this game, players attempt to hit a pin in a circle with a stick. Winners receive a prize.

Other popular carnival games include the ring toss and fish bowl toss. These are easy DIY carnival games. For the ring toss, all you need is a crate of bottles and some rings. For the fish bowl toss, set up a table with a few fish bowls and ask participants to toss ping-pong balls into the bowls.

Other activities include the duck pond and treasure dig. In the past, human oddities were featured in carnivals, including people with multiple arms or legs, midgets, and people born with facial or other deformities. These are now rare due to societal change and increased medical knowledge.