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Who celebrates Carnival?

It’s March, amigos! And what does March mean? (Besides more snow and leprechauns…)

It means that 50+ countries are celebrating Carnival around this time! Carnival is a pre-Lent festival, always occurring before Ash Wednesday to prepare for the upcoming 40-day fast. Because of this, the festivities are known for lots of food, dancing, and an all around free spirit. You may be familiar with the famous festivities in New Orleans and Brazil, but did you know that Venezuela also hosts one of the biggest carnival celebrations each year?

What is Carnival?

In New Orleans, Louisiana, the celebration is called Mardi Gras (french for “fat tuesday”), and people travel from all over to join in the fun—eating, dressing up, and dancing the night away! The largest Carnival celebration of them all, however, occurs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That festival has even been referred to by many as “O maior show da Terra” (Portuguese for “The biggest show on Earth”).

It is so crazy to see how Carnival has grown into such a far-reaching, worldwide event. Though it is still rooted in Lent and its religious beginnings, Carnival is now a celebration all its own. And even though there are some similarities between how each country celebrates, there are also many differences! Here are some facts about a country you may know less about: Venezuela!

Some Facts about Venezuela's Carnival

Did you know, Carnival has been celebrated in Venezuela for hundreds of years? ¡Si! Carnival has been an important part of the country’s culture ever since it was introduced by the Spanish. Nowadays, the largest festival takes place in El Callao, which is an important town in the country’s history because of its gold mines. Here are some facts about the festivities in El Callao!

  • Attendance: At its peak, Carnival boosts the city’s population by four times!

  • Influences: The festival takes its many traditions from the Caribbean islands, such as Trinidad. It also has local, European and African influences. Unity between these cultures is an important aspect of the celebration.

  • Honoring African Traditions: Many African slaves were brought to Venezuela to work in gold mines. Now, descendants and other attendees honor these ancestors through their costumes and music. Watch for this as you study the history and photography of Carnival.

  • Calypso Competitions: these music competitions have become a staple of the festivals as many choose to play Caribbean music or dance to the performers all night long.

  • Water games: originally these were rather violent, but have been adapted to be suitable to children and is now a family favorite. Makes me wonder how on earth you can be violent with water games? Sheesh!

Important Figures of Carnival

  • Las Madamas: These women lead the parades and are thought to be the communicators for the festival. They wear beautiful colorful turbans and dresses influenced by the Caribbean tradition.

  • Isidora Agñes: also known as Negra Isidora or La Negra, is known for helping develop modern ideas of Carnival during her life. Her influence is still honored today.

  • The Medio Pintos: these young men coat themselves in a black syrupy mixture made from unrefined sugar and charcoal. As they dance and run through the festivities, they will ask you for “medio o pinto” (essentially, give us a donation or we will paint you). Medio o te pinto is similar to the American idea of trick-or-treat…except it kind of sounds like a lose/lose situation, hah!

  • The Diablos: these individuals have whips and devil masks! They ensure that the parade stays on track by keeping the crowd back (yikes!)

  • The mineros: these individuals represent the region’s close ties to the gold mines by dressing as gold miners.

The Main Parade

We have described some of the important characters and figures in Venezuala’s main parade, but how do all of these people come together?

Well, as mentioned, the parade includes many performers in exciting and colorful costumes, led by the madamas. While these women lead, the red, black and white diablos keep order by dancing and cracking whips; the medio-pintos smudge the audience with black mixture, and by morning the people watching the parade are soon covered, blending in with the performers. Celebrations normally continue well after the end of the parade with drinking and dancing. To help people recover from the party, local stores and shops open their doors for those without housing and offer … chicken noodle soup! I don’t know about you, but soup sounds like a wonderful way to finish such an exciting celebration!

Had you heard about Carnival before today? Did you know it was celebrated around the world, or had you only heard about a few of the celebrations? I think it is so cool to learn how traditions (like Carnival) can spread from one area of the world to another. If you’ve ever celebrated Carnival in any of its forms, I’d love to hear all about it!

Until next time,

XOXO Christine

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