The history of Mardi Gras parades goes back to pre-christian times, when the Romans used to celebrate Lupercalia, a pagan ritual in which circus demonstrations represented the main ingredient (it might as well be the starting point of the notorious catch-phrase ‘bread and circuses”). When Christianity started to spread, it encompassed some of these traditions in a manifestation that was meant to mark the beginning of the 40-day Lent preceding Easter.
Across the centuries, the Mardi Gras (‘Fat Tuesday’) has grown to represent the carnival period, a time for joy and decadence, when people all around the world gather on the streets, put on their masks and unleash their senses. No matter how different Mardi Gras came to be celebrated in different parts of he Globe, two things remain unchanged: considering the 40 days of abstinence and meditation that follow Mardi Gras, people party harder then ever; and second, there’s always some carnival going on. In case you decide to give this Mardi Gras a special twist, here some of the world’s most appreciated carnivals (oh, and, by the way, this year’s Mardi Gras will be celebrated on the 16th of February):
The Carnival of Venice
Where should our presentation of the best carnivals start if not in the grandiose and decadent Venice? Ever since the 13th century, people have been filling Venice’s narrow canals and picturesque streets with the most extravagant costumes. Today, Venetians and foreigners alike put on traditional papeir-mache masks and party together for 3 full weeks.
Carnaval de Binche
If you’re looking forward to see some authentic ‘gilles’, ‘arlquines’ and ‘pierrots’ then you’d rather head for Belgium, where the coquette town of Binche has preserved the tradition of Mardi Gras almost untouched. Mardi-Gras represents the climax of the carnival, when a drum battalion marches the streets and gathers all the ‘gilles’ from their homes; it is also the only day in the year when the ‘gilles’ are allowed to put on their fancy costumes.
Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenrife
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife might not be the oldest, nor the most famous is Europe, but one thing for sure is that this carnival becomes more and more spectacular with every year. In case you want get a taste of the famous Spanish parties and enjoy a short vacation on the ‘Island of Eternal Spring’, Tenerife is your best option.
Carnival of Rio de Janeiro
Next one on our list is the one and only Carnival of Rio, a manifestation of such glamor and grandeur that it needs no further presentation. However, one thing you must keep in mind when you decide to book your Rio trip is to go there with an open mind: Rio is a place like no other, where exoticism, fame, luxury and poverty go hand in hand.
Carnival of Salvador de Bahia
It’s hard to say which of the tow Brazilian cities, Rio or Salvador, knows how to party better. There are numerous voices who say that the carnival of Salvador de Bahia is the largest street party in the world; and seeing the carnivals huge moving stages (‘Trio Electrico’), listening to the irresistible samba reggae rhythms and getting lost between the 2 million people that fill in the city’s streets might just determine you to assume they’re right.
A last advice at the end of this post takes back to the wise Romans: “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” – meaning: don’t stay aside and contemplate everything as it were a TV show; just jump in the middle of the crowd and let yourself guided by instinct and desire.