Etymologically Carnival is a Christian
innovation derived from the Latin 'Carne vale', meaning "farewell
meat". And this referred to the Lenten abstinence from the meat.
Irrespective of this religious origin, Carnival has assumed a secular
tone. Today, Carnival is time for a no-holds-bar revelry for all. It is
a celebration for life and and rejuvenation. Thus parades, parties,
with music and dances are part of it. Wild, boisterous, colorful parades
of revelers in spectacular costumes take to main city streets with an open
to all invitation to participate and share the jubilation. Carnival took on aspects of the spring rites like those of Saturnalia and
still retains them.
In the ancient festival of Saturnalia the Romans used
to burn the effigy of the king of ancient Saturnalia. He was an ugly
looking personage of Saturn and the master of revels. He suffered a real
death in his assumed character when the revels were over.
In the countries like Italy, Spain, and France where the influence of Rome has been deepest and most lasting, the effigy of Carnival
is burnt, drowned, or beheaded to the feigned grief or genuine delight of
the revelers. This burnt out personage, as pointed out by the noted
anthropologist Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough, is no other than a
direct successor of the old king of Saturnalia. Thus the King of the Bean
on Twelfth Night and the medieval Bishop of Fools, Abbot of Unreason, or
Lord of Misrule are figures of the same sort and may have had a
similar origin. In fact, this tradition of effigy burning had come as a part of an ancient
rites of celebrating the conclusion of the battle between summer and winter.
The wild and boisterous revelry which form an integral part of Carnival,
is also a remnant of the same ancient tradition of spring festival. They
are believed to mock the wars between summer and winter so commonly fought
at the coming of spring. The colorful costumes donned by the revelers are
also said to be representative of the spring when the white face of nature
is cast aside to sport a colorful look. The popular tradition of wearing
masks during the Carnival also comes from the universal feature of the New
Year festivals. The masks are said to represent the dead or spirits from
the nether world who come closest to the human at this vulnerable time of
Carnival is still a splendid festival of lively spirit and gaiety in
Brazil, Peru, and other parts of South America. It is also celebrated with
much fanfare in the European countries dominated by the Catholics. Thus it
is widely celebrated in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.