While the scantily clad party goers might fool you, Carnival is a worldwide celebration that originated in places like New Orleans that have a strong Catholic or Orthodox religious traditions. To gain converts, the early Christian church incorporated pagan practices, during the period of abstinence known as Lent. The idea has always been to get your feasting and sinning out of the way, before the repentant 40-day Easter season begins on Ash Wednesday. "They are always subversive, because people are allowed to do things that are forbidden in real life,” says Cecile Duvelle, director of the Intangible Heritage Division at UNESCO, which protects cultural treasures and festivals like Carnival. No matter what the origins, it's no doubt that these carnivals around the world are like no other party you've ever been to. Here we break down the top 10 Carnival celebrations around the world.
Carnival 2016: 10 Best Carnival Celebrations to Experience this Year
1. Rio Carnival - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Known as the largest Carnival in the world, Rio's carnival attracts nearly 1 million tourists. It is also a benchmark against which every other carnival is compared and one of the most interesting artistic events on the globe. Almost everyone has heard of Rio Carnaval. Rivalries between the samba schools are the high point of the Sunday and Monday before Fat Tuesday, with the city’s main parade culminating in the Sambodromo. You can even march in costume with a samba school, if you’re in the mood to splurge anywhere between $300-$700.
When: February 5-10, 2016
2. Fasnacht - Basel, Switzerland
The Basler Fasnacht starts on the Monday after Ash Wednesday at precisely 4:00 am and lasts for 72 hours. This carnival is often referred to as die drey scheenschte Dääg ("the three most beautiful days"). It's recognized as the largest popular festival in Switzerland, with some 15,000 to 20,000 masked participants taking part. Follow the Cliquen (Carnival cliques) and accompanying bands and musicians as they journey through Basel’s narrow streets with transparent lanterns made from wood and canvas, most more than nine feet high.
When: February 15-17, 2016
3. Mardis Gras - New Orleans, LA
What's a parade without some really great floats? Each Mardi Gras Parade Krewe has a unique history and theme. Thousands of dollars are poured into making these floats, and they're not made overnight. Krewes work on these creations year-round, often at secret "dens" around the city. Tourists often collect "throws" or beaded necklaces throughout the parade. For the real fun, work your local sources to finagle tickets to the private balls put on by the krewes. There are a combined 822 floats, 402 bands, 60 horses, 312 flambeaux carriers, and 94 vehicles. On top of that, approximately 21,000 people ride on the floats every year not to mention that number of tourists that Mardis Gras attracts. Not surprisingly, that weekend is the most popular time to visit the city.
When: February 5-9, 2016
4. Panama Carnival - Panama City, Panama
Also held in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, people all over Panama gather to drink, eat, and party until the sun comes up for 4 days. Expect street parades full of dancing, drinking, and culecos, large 18-wheel trucks carrying water tanks that spray down the crowd. Las Tablas, a provincial town about l30 miles west of Panama City, is considered by many the best place to celebrate Carnival. The town is split into two (upper and lower town, or Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo), who duke it out during Carnival to throw the best party.
When: February 6-10, 2016
5. Carnival of Venice - Venice, Italy
Approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for the Carnival. While some carnivals might be famous for their outrageous costumes, the Carnival of Venice is world-famed for its elaborate masks. Venetian masks can be made of leather, porcelain or using the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design, decoration, and often had a symbolic meaning. Nowadays, most Italian masks are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.
When: January 23-February 9, 2016
6. Trinidad and Tobago Carnival - Port of Spain, Trinidad
Soca and calypso music, fueled by the beat of steel pans, provide the soundtrack for the biggest Carnival in the Caribbean, which combines slave celebrations with Catholic traditions. The Mas tradition started in the late 18th century with French plantation owners organizing masquerades (mas) and balls before enduring the fasting of Lent. The slaves, who could not take part in Carnival, formed their own, parallel celebration called "Canboulay," which later evolved into Carnival.
When: February 8-9, 2016
7. Goa Carnival - Goa, India
This 'Carnaval’ has been celebrated since the 18th century, and was introduced by the Portuguese who ruled over Goa for over five hundred years. The four-day-long celebrations now have more of an Indian twist, with Hindus participating along with those of Christian descent. Huge colorful parades take over the state's cities with bands, floats and dances, while the evenings mean serious partying wherever you are. If you’re not in costume, wear old clothes to the parades, as people often dump buckets of colored water on the spectators or douse them with squirt guns.
When: February 6-9, 2016
8. Mazatlán Carnival - Mazatlán, Mexico
The largest Carnival in Mexico, Mazatlán’s celebration is the only Carnaval in México and the World that combines elements of a fiesta (mariachi bands, stalls of street food) with Christian imagery and indigenous tradition. This third largest carnival celebration in the world started in 1898. Festival goers break confetti-filled hollow eggs (cascarones) on each other, which is a nod to when the celebration began a century ago when dockworkers exchanged projectiles filled with flour and even stones.
When: February 4-9, 2016
9. Moscow Carnival - Moscow, Russia
Known in Russian as Maslenitsa, the carnival season is also called Pancake Week. A tradition of Maslenitsa is to share pancakes, also known as blini, with family, friends, and acquaintances throughout the carnival week. The round, warm, golden pancakes consumed during the festival symbolize the sun, the end of winter, and the beginning of spring. A primary goal during Pancake Week is to feast in preparation for the impending fast.
When: March 7-19, 2016
10. Cologne Carnival - Cologne, Germany
On February 10, 1823 Cologne celebrated the first Rose Monday. Over the years, the celebration has kept certain traditions while letting new customs emerge. The “crazy days” of the largest carnival in Europe start on Women’s (Shrove) Thursday, when bars suspend hours, and women roam the streets with scissors, cutting men’s ties. The highlight of the celebration is a huge parade on Rose Monday before Ash Wednesday with the march of "Cologne's Dreigestirn" or Triumvirate - the Prince, the Peasant and the Maiden.
When: February 4-10, 2016
This article was written by Lauren Gaw.