What is carnival?

Carnival is a festival season. It occurs immediately before Lent; the main events take place usually during February. It typically involves a public celebration or parade or public street party. People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations. The world's largest carnival celebration is held in Brazil but many countries worldwide have large, popular celebrations, such as Carnival of Venice, Switzerland and Germany.

Carnival is part of the Roman Catholic church year, although the custom  originated as end-of-winter celebration or rituals to drive out evil spirits and deamons with spooky masks and loud music. The origin of the name "carnival" is still disputed:

Carnival in Germany

In Germany, especially the western part (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate) is famous for "Karneval" celebrations such as parades and costume balls. Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz are called carnival "strongholds" in the public media. In the East and South of Germany (and Austria) carnival is called "Fasching" and especially Munich developed a special kind of celebration. In Franconia and the southwest-parts and also some other parts of Germany a carnival is called "Fastnacht" or "Fasnet".

RosenmontagswagenThe carnival session officially begins each year on 11th of November at 11:11 a.m. and finishes on Ash Wednesday, although most festivities take place in the actual carnival week starting on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, called "Altweiberfastnacht" (Old women's day/carnival). The following days balls and parades are held (picture on the right), the latter especially on Rosemonday "Rosenmontag". Carinval is often referred to as the "Fith Season".


What happens during the carnival season??

On 11th of November at 11.11 a.m. the "Hoppeditz" is woken up, followed by his often critical, sarcastic but funny speech called "Büttenrede" (carnival speech). The festivities are a mixture of music and dance displays as well as carnival speeches. The dance displays are conducted by special dance groups "Tanzgarden", or solo dancers "Tanzmariechen" or "Funkenmariechen". On "Altweiberfastnacht" (Old women's day/carnival) women take formally control of the cities, ranging from street parties to cutting off ties of male work collegues.

On Rosemonday street parades are carried out, with carnival clubs and their music and dance groups on foot, followed by specially built wagons (see picture). The wagons traditionally are decorated in a manner to critizise/display present political issues.
Some cities choose a royal-couple, prince and princess"Prinzenpaar" , for each carnival season to reign and present carnival on the festivities. Most cities have a two royal-couples: an adult and a child couple.

The night before Ash Wednesday "Aschermittwoch", Shrove-Tuesday, the "Hoppeditz" will be burned end officially ends the carnival season.

Left picture: traditional "old women"
Right picture: the "Hoppeditz" is being burnt the night before Ash Wednesday



International carnival

In Christianity, the most famous traditions, including parades and masquerading, are first attested from medieval Italy. The carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous carnival. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to Spain, Portugal, and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany, and to New Orleans. From Spain and Portugal, they spread to Latin America. Many other areas have developed their own traditions.

Depending on the area, the carnival may last from a few weeks to several months. While its starting day varies, it usually ends on the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent.

Carnival in Venice Carnival in Basel Carnival in Rio




Sources: partly extracted from Wikipedia

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