The Oldest Carnivals in the World

Flamboyant costumes and makeup, extravagant with parades, floats, food, drinks, and other festivities by people swarmed in the street, exhilarating in the pompous celebration of their annual carnivals. Carnivals are a global sensation enjoyed in over 50 countries over the world! People celebrate it before abstinence of Lent, usually in the month of February or March. 

Each country has its own defined traditions to conduct the carnival. The monumental event attracts tourists from all over. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, New Orleans, USA, and Venice, Italy commemorate some of the world’s most renowned carnivals every year.¬†

The carnival season happens a couple of days before Lent, wherein Christians renounce meat, sugar, or other foods and drinks. They amass one last time in great pomp to party and relish everything they forsake during the next 40 days of fasting.

Each carnival has its origin rooted deep in the history of time. People have been gathering and parading the streets since time immemorial. Although the exact origin of the first-ever Carnival is in question, here are the four oldest carnivals celebrated by people of the yore.


Image acquired from Pikist.

Perhaps the¬†oldest¬†carnival in existence, Kukeri from eastern Europe dates back to Pagan times. Celebrated in Bulgaria, it is one of the oldest traditions of the region that could have originated over 6000 years ago and is held even today! The festivities are conducted between New Year’s and Lent.

This centuries-old event intends to ward off evil spirits. “Kuker” means “hood” in Latin, which is an essential component of the carnival. Bulgarian men and boys wear Kuker or hooded costumes made of fur (initially natural, now artificial) with bells attached around their waist. They don frightening carved wooden masks covered with threads, fur, animal teeth, beads, and horns, that represent a bird or an animal face.¬†

The performers do their ritualistic dance through the streets in an attempt to chase the evil spirits away. Tens and thousands of people jam the streets of Bulgaria to participate in this three-day festival which ends in The Surva Festival.

Venice Carnival

Image acquired from Pickvisa.

Venice Carnival is one of the world’s popular carnivals, known to most by its distinct masks and masquerade costumes. It is held every year in February, two weeks before Ash Wednesday. The Venice Carnival¬†dates¬†back to 1162 when the Venice Republic rose victorious after defeating its enemy, the Patriarch of Aquileia. People congregated to commemorate their victory in Saint Mark‚Äôs Square with games and dancing around bonfires, and have been celebrating ever since!

However, it is also believed that the true origin of the carnival dates back to the 9th century. At the time, people belonging to lower social masked themselves to mingle with the rich and mighty for anonymity. After a couple of bans and other prohibitions, Venice Carnival today is known for its majestic period costumes worn by people parading the Venetian streets every year.

The Dionysia

Image acquired from Greeker Than Greeks.

The Dionysia has been a note-worthy festival celebrated by Athens during the golden age of ancient Greece. The pagan ritual¬†emerged¬†during the 6th century BC when Athens honored Dionysus – the god of wine, theater, fertility, celebration and ecstasy. The carnival is also known by its other names such as ‚ÄúThe Great Dionysia‚ÄĚ, ‚ÄúThe Dionysia Mysteries‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúCity Dionysia‚ÄĚ.

Male and Female inhabitants made their way to the woods, singing and dancing to trance-inducing songs after copious amounts of wine kicked into their system. Nearing the end of the festivities day, the residents parade the streets carrying a wooden statue of Dionysus and culminate the events at the theatre wherein they would conduct a contest for best tragedy and satirical playrights.

Putignano Carnival

Image Acquired from National Geography.

Putignano, a town in southern Italy, stages Europe’s oldest and longest carnivals! They originally commenced in 1394, running for four months – starting in December until the end of February! Legend has it that Putignano Carnival originated when the Knight of Saint John asked for the removal of relics from Monopoli to Putignano to safeguard it from Turkish raiders. Local people welcomed the relics into their town with dances, verses, and music.

The tradition has followed every year, although the religious sentiments attached to it dwindled with time.
Today, a massive crowd parade the streets with floats, papier-mache puppets, live music, and comedy sketches. The procession is led by a clown-like figure. Locals utilize the carnival as an opportunity to display caricatures of public figures. To culminate the festivities, revelers dressed as priests dip broom into an imitation toilet and sprinkle the water on onlookers as ‘last rites’.


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