We look at ten carnivals celebrated around the world in the month of February.
It is the month of outlandish costumes, dazzling masks, beads, colors, and confetti! Cities are vibrant and overflow with them as music resounds, street parades are in order and people in many parts of the world (where carnivals are celebrated) are in a mood to party. Everyone is out to have a great time this month as many countries around the globe are gearing up for their carnivals.
The annual Venice Carnival (or “Carnevale”), a two-week event, is one of the biggest celebrations in Italy. Held annually in the stunning Italian city we all love, the annual pre-Lenten celebration is all about parades, parties, historical re-enactments, concerts, markets, and let’s not forget the ornate Venetian masks! Running for two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, the elaborate costumes and masks are the essence of Venice Carnival.
The extravagant Venice Carnival festival is indeed a legacy that’s been around since the 13th century and now people from all over the world visit to get their fancy-dress fix and take in the iconic scenery of Venice. It creates the most magical backdrop for the costumed participants. During this time, the city transforms into an enchanting and spellbinding place.
Attendees at the carnival can walk around the city, go ice skating, watch the street performances, theatre performances, comedy shows; admire the stunning costumes and magnificent masks; attend private parties or masquerade balls and enjoy the different activities/events and live music throughout the whole city. You may also participate in the Best Masks or Costume Contest and taste the Frittelle – delicious fried doughnuts!
The Venice Carnival runs from February 12 to March 1 this year. It began in 1162 in celebration of the Venice Republic’s victory over its enemy: the Patriarch of Aquileia and is therefore of historical significance. “The people of Venice gathered in Saint Mark’s Square (San Marco) to dance and celebrate their victory. Ever since then, the victory has been celebrated in the streets of Venice,” states the Venice Carnival 2022 by Venice Events website.
While under the rule of Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor, the carnival was outlawed in 1797 with the Venetians’ use of masks to conceal their identities also being banned at the time. Although the celebration came back for brief periods, eventually in 1979, the Italian government decided to help Venice reconnect with its festival heritage. This decision was taken to rejuvenate the culture and economy of Venice.
Image via Indian Holiday
Introduced by the Portuguese who ruled over Goa for over five hundred years, the ‘Goa Carnival’ is the most famous festival in the state. It is unique to Goa, India, and has been celebrated since the 18th century as a precursor to the abstinence of Lent. The celebration is a tradition that dates back to the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa way back in 1510 and originates from the tradition of Mardi Gras.
The four-day fiesta is filled with feasting, merrymaking, drinking and is celebrated with much enthusiasm and energy, while the nights are for non-stop parties and grand masquerade balls! Massive colorful parades take over Goa’s cities with bands, floats, and dances, and the streets are decorated with attractive lighting and grand balls.
The Goa carnival is a celebration with extravagant dances, positive vibes, music performances, and unmatched exuberance that shows off the wonderful Goan culture. The event, a big tourist attraction, is mixed in with a few hints of its Portuguese heritage. It attracts thousands from all over India and around the world. Mixed with Goan culture and Hindu traditions, the Carnival begins on Fat Saturday evening with an incredibly grand procession. It is headed up by the Carnival King Momo.
You can also enjoy delicious food and excessive drinks. The fourth and final day of the Carnival is considered the most striking! It is the final day to celebrate before Lent begins and the celebration concludes with the popular Red and Black dance.
Trinidad & Tobago Carnival
The Trinidad & Tobago Carnival is one of the best Caribbean carnivals in the world which commences from February 28 and concludes on March 1 this year. The two-day celebration sees some of the greatest street parades in the world. Starting in the 18th century by the French who had colonized the country, the carnival is held annually between the Monday and Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent.
The French brought their cultural traditions and language to the island. One of these traditions included private parties and masquerade balls called fetes. Trinidad & Tobago Carnival is filled with colorful parades, elaborate costumes – some sexy, others conservative and showcases different types of Caribbean music. You can have fun drinking, dancing, socializing, and even attending the pre and post carnival events and parties.
© Festkomitee Kölner Karneval / Costa Belibasakis (Image via Culture Trip)
Germany’s craziest party, the 2022 Cologne Carnival will take place on February 24 until March 2, 2022, six days before the onset of Lent. The city lets loose, dresses up, sings their hearts out, dances the night away and drinks insane amounts of beer and schnapps as the carnival fever takes over the entire city of Cologne.
Cologne Carnival is almost the same age as the city of Cologne itself as people have been celebrating the Carnival since the Middle Ages. Although the Cologne Carnival Season officially begins on the 11th November, at 11:11 am and finishes on Ash Wednesday, the main event takes place six days before Lent wherein millions of enthusiastic Germans flood the streets of Cologne. They wear the wackiest costumes. Beer flows freely, parties occur everywhere in the city.
From the streets, public squares, restaurants to pubs which stay open for the entire duration of Cologne Carnival. Cologne Carnival Costumes are on par with Comic-con cosplay, with everyone dressing up in Cologne as locals love getting into the carnival spirit. Locals go all out when it comes to carnival costumes, completely transforming themselves with crazy costumes, wigs, makeup, masks, or body paint.
As per Carnivaland, “the origins of Cologne Carnival started with Germanic tribes who used to celebrate the winter solstice to worship their gods and exile evil winter demons. Christians later adopted these customs giving them Christian meanings.” As we mentioned before, the Carnival season in Cologne officially kicks off on the 11th November at 11:11 am, “when around 70,000 carnival-goers pack into Heumarkt Square, Cologne to celebrate the opening of Cologne Carnival Season together.”
Oscar Elias Jesus Lucero on Wikipedia [CREATIVE COMMONS] (Image via Atlas Obscura)
A mix of Catholic and Pagan customs, Oruro Carnival’s main celebrations always start the Saturday prior to Shrove Tuesday and finish on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This year it will run through February 19 – March 1, 2022. With this, a question may arise about the location of this carnival. Oruro or Uru Uru is a small mining city. It is located in the arid Altiplano region of Bolivia. This region has a population of 250,000.
Oruro sits a dizzying 4000 meters above sea level. This little mining town is actually home to one of the world’s most famous carnivals which are over 200 years old. Considered to be a very important religious carnival, UNESCO declared Oruro Carnival a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001, as per Carnivaland.
The origins of this fiesta which now features traditional folk dancing, extravagant costumes, lively music, beautiful handicrafts, and plenty of partying, dates back long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. This celebration commemorates an ancient story about a miracle. It occurred in one of the mineshafts and is still honored today during carnival, the legend being that “a Virgin once took pity on a fatally injured man by helping he reach his home near the silver mines of Oruro before he died.”
On the main day of the celebration, you can see the Main Parade, covering a four-kilometer route that can last for 20 hours featuring around fifty groups that are made up of 20,000 dancers. This includes 150 bands and 10,000 musicians who all participate in the parade. The fiesta showcases dance performances, enactments, colorful costumes, a display of culture, heritage, and tradition. It displays the most incredible choreography and music.
Salvador de Bahia (Brazil)
Image via Carnivaland
The Salvador Carnival is known for throwing the world’s biggest street party. Salvador de Bahia is Brazil’s second-largest carnival with over 2 million people flocking to the celebration for one week of partying. The pre-Lenten celebration always occurs in the lead-up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent with this year the carnival commencing on February 24 until Shrove Tuesday 1 March 2, 2022.
Salvador de Bahia is located in the capital city of the Brazilian state of Bahia, the heart of Brazil’s Afro-Brazilian community wherein the Afro-Brazilian music, food, dance, religion, and martial arts traditions are still alive and well. Salvador de Bahia Carnival is so unique due to the fusion of cultures such as African, European, and Latinos traditions and the Afro-Brazilian music, dance, and folklore on display during the fiesta.
The Salvador Carnival, unlike the Rio Carnival, does not have samba parades. It sees massive moving street parades with the large Afro-Brazilian community with their strong roots in African culture and traditions, giving it a more authentic African flavor.
The heart of the carnival is large 18-wheel freight trucks that have amplified sound systems and stages on top of them that drive through the carnival circuits blasting out music or feature live musical performances. In addition to this, you can dance until your feet hurt, enjoy delicious local food and drinks!
Carnival of Binche (Belgium)
Carnaval de Binche – Credits Alex Kouprianoff (Image via Imagine Belgium)
One of the oldest, most famous, and unique celebrations in Belgium is Le Carnaval de Binche or the Carnival of Binche. Due to its originality and its long tradition, the festival was recognized by UNESCO in 2003 as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,’ as per Carnivaland. People from all over the world flock to see this amazing Carnival. The locals partake in it as it is an important part of their culture.
The Binche Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival that occurs the three days prior to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The 2022 Binche Carnival dates begin on 27th February until 1st March 2022. This carnival takes place in Binche, a tiny Walloon town located in the Belgian province of Hainaut. It has a population of around 33000. The Binche Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival, a folkloric event. It has come from a long oral tradition that existed before written records.
The Binche Belgium Carnival is based on oral folklore that gives the participants the feeling of pride and uniqueness. The main characters of this Carnival are the ‘Gilles’, clown-like mythical creatures. Gillies, primarily male, can range from 3 to 50 years old and are characterized by their vibrant costumes, wax masks, and wooden footwear.
Mazatlán Carnival (México)
Image via Carnivaland
Taking place five days preceding Lent, Mazatlán Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival that begins on 20 February and finishes on Shrove Tuesday, 1st March 2022. The locals take pride in the unique, vibrant celebration and in the fact that the Carnival King is often just an ordinary guy who labors for a living. Mazatlán Carnival features an abundance of brass bands, fireworks, awards for poetry, art and literature, and carnival royalty coronations!
The sounds of Tambora music fill the air. They can be heard day and night all over the city for the duration of the celebration. The party atmosphere overtakes the whole city. Everyone gives in to enjoying the sensation of the excess as the streets of Mazatlán are transformed into a sea of people drinking. They socialize and dance the night away to all the different bands that line the Malecon.
The first documentation of the carnival occurred in 1827. It was by Captain Juan Antonio Muñoz. “According to chronicles on Shrove, Tuesday masked costumes would parade throughout Mazatlán telling jokes, singing songs and throwing flour around,” as per Carnivaland.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade
Image via Carnivaland
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, commencing 18th February until 6th March. 2022 has no associations with the Catholic Mardi Gras celebrations that occur worldwide before Lent. Its main event is always held on the first Saturday of March. The glorious and glittery celebration is an annual celebration of love that knows no bounds. It is an LGBTQI rights protest and celebration of sexuality.
You can dance, party, dress up, be wild and feel the unity that this celebration embraces. The main attraction of Sydney Mardi Gras is the parade and the carnival kicks off when a rainbow flag is raised above Sydney Town Hall. It is raised two weeks prior to the parade.
Other highlights of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade include “the Indigenous-led Koori Gras, Bondi Beach Drag Races, Harbour Party, a family fun day at Luna Park, an academic discussion panel Queer Thinking, Mardi Gras Film Festival,” as per Carnivaland.
Sydney Mardi Gras dates back to 1978 when a group of young queer Australians decided to protest the criminalization of homosexuality in Australia. Ron Austin, a man who is now known as the ‘godfather of Sydney Mardi Gras’ came up with the idea to turn the protests into a big street party. However, “despite being legal, it was met with brutal resistance from the New South Wales Police Force.” They used brutality and broke up the parade and arrested 53 people.
Today, it is a dazzling spectacle of color and glitter that captures the imagination. You can go to bars, clubs, dance to gay anthems, eat, drink and have a great time! Live performances from international stars and DJs can be viewed at the Afterparty. Feathers explode, body glitter, sequined outfits, leather outfits, and rainbow colors everywhere, you can have the time of your life at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.