Carnival is an annual festival that usually occurs before the start of Lent and usually involves a public celebration or festivity. These public celebrations often include street parties, parades, dances, or some other form of entertainment.
You may be wondering what the origin of the word carnival is. The name “carnival” seems to derive from the Italian word for “meat”, which explains its Christian origin. In Italian, “carne levare” means “remove the meat”, while in Latin “carne vale” means “goodbye meat”.
What is the history of the carnival?
Well, this is a question that doesn’t exactly have a definitive answer. The origin of the carnival is a debatable matter. Today carnival is primarily a Christian affair celebrated in countries with large Catholic populations.
However, how did the carnivals begin? The pagan origins of carnival began long before the rise of Christianity, it was a celebration in many pagan cultures.
So where was carnival invented? It has been speculated that the origin of the carnival arose 5000 years ago with the Egyptians, others speculate that it was the Greeks. In ancient Egypt and Greece there were festivals that occurred around the cycles of nature and the universe.
Carnival in the past
In ancient Greece, Dionysia was a great spring festival held in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine. The Romans adopted this tradition and honored Saturnalia or Bacchus who was their God of wine. These festivals were all about feasting and drunken revelry.
The Roman Empire adopted the most popular pagan festivals and practices. With the growth of the Roman Empire these festivities spread throughout the empire under newly created names. For example, the December celebration of the winter solstice became known as the Saturnalia and Brumalia festivals.
The pre-spring festivals became the spring festival of Ishtar in Babylon, or Osiris in Egypt, marking the new birth. In the middle of these two another party was celebrated known as the “love party” of Lupercalia.
Why is carnival celebrated?
In ancient times, long before the rise of Christianity, the people we call pagans today had wild celebrations centered around the winter and spring solstices, and the spring and fall equinoxes. These wild celebrations were the ones that people were loath to leave, even after becoming Christians.
When is carnival celebrated?
Carnival festivities usually occurred before the onset of spring because it was the last chance ordinary people had to eat well because there was usually a shortage of food towards the end of winter.
Cattle were usually slaughtered in November, and towards the end of winter, all leftover winter stocks of lard, butter, and meat had to be eaten before they began to decompose with the onset of warmer temperatures.
This feast ensured that everyone was fed enough to last until spring and until a new harvest could provide new food sources. Nerthus, the goddess of fertility, was at the center of these celebrations, driving out winter and ensuring that fertility returned in the spring.
Today Carnival is truly a global phenomenon, celebrated in more than 50 countries. Carnival has evolved beyond the pre-Lenten celebrations and each country and city has its own unique twist on carnival traditions and celebrations.