A note on Mardi Gras Carnival

CarnivalEtymologically 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 changeover.

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.
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