Carnival (often spelled Carnaval) is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February. Carnival typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party.
People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning of daily life. In Germany and the Netherlands, the Carnival season is traditionally opened on 11/11 (often at 11:11 a.m.). This dates back to celebrations before the former longer Advent season (40 days now reduced to about four weeks), or with harvest celebrations of St. Martin’s Day.
The Lenten period of the Liturgical year Church calendar, being the six weeks directly before Easter, was marked by fasting and other pious or penitential practices. Traditionally during Lent, no parties or other celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar.
The forty days of Lent, recalling the Gospel accounts of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, serve to mark an annual time of turning. In the days before Lent, all rich food and drink had to be disposed of. The consumption of this, in a giant party that involved the whole community, is thought to be the origin of Carnival.
While it forms an integral part of the Christian calendar, particularly in Catholic regions, many carnival traditions date back to pre-Christian times. The Italian Carnival may be derived from the ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Bacchanalia. The Saturnalia, in turn, may be based on the Greek Dionysia and Oriental festivals. While medieval pageants and festivals such as Corpus Christi were church-sanctioned celebrations, carnival was also a manifestation of medieval folk culture. Many local carnival customs are based on local pre-Christian rituals, for example the elaborate rites involving masked figures in the Swabian–Alemannic Fastnacht.
Some of the best-known traditions, including carnival parades and masquerade ball masquerading, were first recorded in medieval Italy. The carnival of Venice was, for a long time, the most famous carnival. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal, and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany, and to New France in North America. From Spain and Portugal, they spread with Catholic colonization to the Caribbean and Latin America.
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