Every year, Carnival celebrations happen all over the world in places like South America, Europe, Canada, and the Caribbean. The festivities typically include lively parades, rich foods, and different forms of entertainment ranging from circus stunts to musical performances.
Many different theories surround the origins of Carnival. One suggests that it is derived from the Latin words caro meaning meat and vale meaning farewell, possibly describing the necessity of using all perishables before the 40 days of fasting during Lent. Some also believe that the celebrations were a way to scare away evil spirits, thereby saying goodbye to winter and welcoming spring.
Carnival celebrations are usually popular events and are considered peak traveling times, which could potentially mean an increase in prices and decrease in hotel and flight capacity. It’s wise to book early to ensure the lowest prices and availability. Some Carnival revelers book up to even a year in advance. Last-minute planners and those wanting to save money should consider looking for lodging outside the city center, where there’s often more availability and lower rates than in the heart of the action. And don’t despair if you miss out this year, because you can always get an early start on next year’s festivities and beat everyone to the punch.
The following destinations celebrate Carnival with unique style and flair.
- Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: During February, Rio de Janeiro hosts one of the largest celebrations in the world in the form of a gigantic dance competition performed by samba schools. The streets fill with musical performances, an array of food vendors, colorful costumes, and massive floats. The procession begins at around eight in the evening, and can last until dawn. Tickets are available at travel agencies, but must be purchased well in advance, especially for seats outside the reserved tourist sections. Visit the Rio Convention Bureau for more information.
- Carnevale Di Venezia, Venice, Italy: Also in February, Venice holds a one-week celebration that’s more than 700 years old to honor the end of winter. The city springs to life with theatrical performances, acrobatics, ornate masks, and elegant costumes. Originally, lavish masks were worn to give commoners the illusion of equality to royalty. Now, they provide a symbol of unity among people. The masks may also serve as a veil to allow for mischievous behavior such as indulging in excessive food and drink. It’s best to book at least one year in advance for lodging. For further details, visit the official Carnevale website.
- Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Louisiana: Although New Orleans is still coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the streets will fill with laughter and merriment during Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) this year. The city has always attracted national and international crowds with the extravagant balls, wild street parties, and massive parades during the two-week festival in February. This year will be similar, but with more condensed activities. Book now as flights and lodging are limited and expected to fill up quickly. For more information on the status of the city and Mardi Gras festivities, read our story: [%281432 | | New Orleans, on the upswing, calls back visitors %]. Also, The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau continually updates its website with the current status of specific establishments.
- Carnival in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago: Nearly all of the Caribbean islands celebrate Carnival, with the biggest festivals usually occurring in February. One of the most popular celebrations takes place in Trinidad and Tobago. The streets become a procession of costumes, color, and calypso for the two days before Ash Wednesday. The festival is more than just a party; it’s a performance befitting a stage with theatrical attire and dramatic acts. Book at least one year in advance for Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival and other peak festivals, and three to four months in advance for the smaller island carnivals such as those on St. Lucia and Saba that take place in the summer off-season.
- Carnaval de Quebec, Quebec City: Quebec City’s Carnival features an ice palace, snow sculptures, and its very own mascot, Bonhomme. During this 2 1/2-week festival in late January through early February, the streets of the old city are converted into courses ready for dog sledding and soapbox races. At night, parades fill the streets with marching bands and floats. Quebec’s winter Carnival is the largest of its kind, combining folkloric tradition with art and activities. Book at least three months in advance for hotels in the old city, especially the famous Fairmont Château Frontenac. Last-minute rates and lower prices are typically available at hotels outside the old city. For full details and a calendar of events, visit the Carnaval de Quebec website.
These are only a few out of the many celebrations that happen all over the world each year. Festivals take place in destinations from Minnesota to Rijeka, Croatia, and several even happen in the summer or early winter. Visit Carnival Potpourri for more information on the many different events that happen throughout the year.