THE FOUNDATION OF NEW WORLD CARNAVAL TRADITIONS

A long time ago, Carnaval was named and calendared in relation to the annual Catholic Easter holiday. This major holiday named after a European Goddess of rebirth, celebrates the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ based on the lunar cycle calendar of thirteen full moons in a year. Easter is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox.

The act of relating Carnival to the most important holy Christian day of the year was actually more of a truce declaration for the Church. It seems the Church hierarchy had grown weary of its long, bloody, unsuccessful battle to eliminate the innumerable deep rooted pagan spring celebrations in Europe. However the Church did name it for Carnaval means "farewell to the flesh" (from the Latin roots "carne" and "valle") and refers to an accepted final hurrah before ending of sinful behavior on Shrove Tuesday. The following day, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent which is 40 weekdays of prayer and reflection for the faithful leading up to Easter Sunday.

Certainly, the enthusiasm for Carnaval was helped along by the reverse of the seasons which occurs to the calendar below the equator. While February in Europe is a cold winter month requiring constricting layers of clothing, in Brazil, the Caribbean, and most of Latin America its the end of the summer, and an excellent time for a huge party.

Since the 15th century, Brazil practiced a local version of the Spanish and Portuguese pre-Lenten Entrudo holiday. This is a throw-fest free-for-all, featuring suspect liquids and ripe fruit. While the Brazilians content themselves with confetti this Carnival style is still popular elsewhere in South America. For example, the crossroad Brazil/Bolivian border region of Santa Cruz has perhaps the wildest melees with five days of increasingly aggressive and random bombardments of water balloons and shoe polish (This even includes attacking journalists and their cameras!)

The great Meso-American civilizations of the Mayans and Aztecs divided their calendars into lunar cycles and like the Egyptians before them they also had five superfluous days between their old and new year. These days, called "Nemontemi" like Carnaval fell in the first part of the year and were considered a time outside of time when sacramental rituals on behalf of the gods need be performed. These cult rituals had much in common with fertility rituals of Europe as both were meant to bring to the tribe's collective consciousness the vitality of a new year and the realization of the magic of nature's eternal cycle of renewal.


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