Carnival, Carnaval (Spanish, Portuguese, & French), or Carnevale (Italian) is a month of partying before the solemn Christian period of Lent.
Carnival time is defined by Easter Sunday. Carnival begins on the Septuagesima, the ninth Sunday before Easter.
The party ends on Carnival Tuesday which is best known as Mardi Gras in the United States. That’s French for “Fat Tuesday” in New Orleans Carnival. Whatever you call it, Carnival Tuesday was the last day to eat rich foods before before Ash Wednesday starts the Lent period of fasting and religious devotion leading up to the rebirth of Easter.
Carnival traditions follow the rhythms of people who work the land in the northern hemisphere.
The season is associated with eating meat. “Carne” means meat in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. The last meat of the previous year was slaughtered in November. It had to be eaten in February or March, before it spoiled.
Winter in Spanish is “Inverno” (as in inverse). The idea of inversion was applied to the rhythms of life.
Summer was for working the fields, so winter was for not working. People who work the land were peasants or slaves who served a ruling elite. In winter their roles could be reversed. Common people were allowed more freedom.
These winter inversions were part of the entire period from Christmas to Carnival Tuesday. In fact, modern Christmas traditions (Peace on Earth, etc.) arose from attempts to calm down the wild party. In some Carnival countries, very little work gets done between Christmas and the end of Carnival.
It was also a good time to make babies. Carnival babies would be born in late fall after the work of the growing season. Mothers would then have a fairly quite time to nurse newborns through winter. So sexual mores were more relaxed.
So with meat, less work, this idea of inversion, and good baby-making time, Carnival is quite a party. Of course in contemporary times, it’s different, but many Carnival people work on their costumes and routines all year long.
In the southern hemisphere, Carnival comes during summer. Every country celebrates in its own way.
Venice, Italy; Cadiz, Spain; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Barranquilla, Colombia; Trinidad; and New Orleans have famous Carnivals.
February-March is cold in New York City, so we celebrate Trinidad Carnival as West Indian Day on Labor Day in September.
2018 Carnival Season is January 28 – February 13, 2018.
Venice Carnival in Venice, Italy is February 8-13, 2018.
Rio Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is February 9-14, 2018.
Barranquilla Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia is February 10-13, 2018.
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad is Monday-Tuesday, February 12-13, 2018.
Venice Carnavale starts February 11. The Septuagesima is Feb 12. Rio Carnaval starts February 24. Barranquilla Carnaval starts February 25. The whole party ends on Carnival Tuesday, February 28, 2017.