When most people hear the word “Carnival”, we tend to think of the Brazil Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The extravagant floats with colorful costumes, the music and dancing. You wouldn’t be wrong either, but many other countries celebrate Carnival as well! (The festival can take on a few variations in different countries and under different names, too.) Carnival is a pre-Lent festival that is largely celebrated by Catholic and Greek Orthodox regions as a last big party before fasting begins. The origin of the name “Carnival” is from the Latin words carne vale, or “goodbye to meat”. If you’re curious about the kinds of Carnival costumes worn around the world, check out all of these fabulous costumes for Carnival!
The Carnival of Brazil
[Source: Antonio Scorza/AFP/NBC News]
Naturally, we’re going to talk about Brazil’s Carnival first because it’s the biggest Carnival celebration in the world! Several regions throughout Brazil host their own Carnival celebrations including Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. They each celebrate in a slightly different way, but the core of Carnival is present in each of them, including music, dancing, parades with flashy floats and colorful costumes! Most of the costumes are intricately hand-made and they look a lot like showgirl costumes with extra-large plumes. (Even some guys have worn costumes featuring the showy plumes!) Preparation for the festivities takes place in samba schools throughout the year so that they’re more than ready to party by Carnival time.
The Carnival of Venice
If you’re a fan of masquerades, you’ll love the Carnival of Venice! The Carnival of Venice used to be the most famous Carnival celebration until Rio de Janeiro became more prominent. Venice’s Carnival is the most famous for its use of costume masks. (If you ever wondered why a mask is sometimes called a “Venetian mask”, now you know!) The Carnival of Venice also has parades, music and dancing, but there are also masquerade balls to attend. If you ask us, that's a wonderful excuse to dress up in elaborately decorated masks and Victorian costumes. (Or just about anything else with lots of frills and ruffles so you can twirl like a pro!)
Mardi Gras in New Orleans
[Source: Getty Images/Condé Nast Traveler]
That’s right, Mardi Gras is part of the worldwide Carnival festivities even if “Carnival” isn’t in the name! (Kudos to you if you already knew this.) It was one of the many traditions brought to the region by French settlers. Nowadays, the festivities are celebrated with music and parades, but the Mardi Gras beads are the prominent feature of the Carnival in Louisiana. Mardi Gras even has a color theme: green, purple and gold. You’re bound to see a lot of people in jester costumes or just about anything else they can find within the color theme. However, revelers can rock just about any costume they want!
Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands
The Carnival in Tenerife is widely considered to be the second best Carnival in the world after Rio. Costumes are king here and many spectators dress up, so you might feel out of place in street clothing. There is also a great deal of cross-dressing and drag. (Feel free to wear whatever way makes you comfortable!) The selection of the Carnival queens is one of the most exciting parts of the festival, and they wear extravagant costumes that are often mounted on wheels. It almost makes them look like a one-person float! (Some of these costumes can weigh up to 80kg. That's about 176lbs! Oof!) There is also a drag queen of the Carnival competition and a children’s Carnival queen competition. The winners all take part in the grand parade and show off their costumes along with dance troupes for one of the most spectacular parades in the world!
The Carnival of Binche in Belgium
The Carnival of Binche in Belgium is one of the more bizarre Carnival festivals, but they have been celebrating it this way for centuries! A large host of men dress as “Gilles”, wearing colorful stuffed costumes adorned with bells along with wooden clog shoes. As if the costumes themselves weren’t outlandish enough, their headgear consists of either hats with ostrich plumes or wax masks with green glasses. They wield sticks to help ward off evil spirits and they also hand out oranges to spectators. (People usually throw the oranges later in the day, but you're never supposed to hand them back to a Gille!) Their masks are actually patented, so they can only be sold to prospective Gilles and only worn in Binche.
The Carnival of Cadiz in Spain
There are several Carnivals held in Spain every year, but the Cadiz Carnival is known as being the funniest. The Carnival of Cadiz is dominated by music and while there are plenty of bands throughout the city, you can also find street musicians and bystanders sharing their love of music from the skilled to the beginner. Groups called chirigotas are prevalent and they sing funny songs about a variety of topics, from politics to pop stars. There is also a lot of improvisational theater to check out, too! The singers and actors dress in costumes that are less showy, with more of an emphasis on cleverness and humor. (This is a great time for anyone to pull out their favorite silly costumes because revelers are encouraged to dress up too!) Like several other Carnivals, the festivities end with the burying of the sardine and onlookers are encouraged to participate as mourners bemoaning the passing of the fish. (After all, when the festivities end and Lent begins, that’s also when the fasting starts.)
The Winter Carnival of Quebec, Canada
The Winter Carnival in Quebec, Canada is a little newer to the Carnival scene than some of the other festivals, but that doesn’t make it any less fun! Because it's held during the winter season in Canada, the festivities include a lot of snow and ice-related revelries such as snow sculptures, an ice palace, and ice skating. There are also parades and costumes, but you can be sure that they’re wearing more than they do in Rio and other countries with warm climates. (Granted, the snow bath is an exception!) You're also bound to see their snowman mascot, Bonhomme. The Winter Carnival is probably one of the better times of year to crack out a mascot costume without worrying about heatstroke. Some of the festivities are held later in the day or at night because they add splashes of color to the events with colorful lights. The Quebec Carnival is one of the most family-friendly Carnivals because there are plenty of activities for kids and families, and drinking 'til you drop isn’t one of the main focuses.
As you can see, Carnival is celebrated in different ways but there are several things they all have in common: costumes, parades, and fun! Have you ever been to a Carnival celebration? Did you go in costume? Were you looking for some Carnival costume ideas? Feel free to share your comments with us below. No matter how or where you celebrate, the most important part of all is to enjoy yourself!