An official Mexican holiday, Carnaval is a five day celebration that takes places before Catholic lent occurs on Ash Wednesday. The holiday is very similar in nature to the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration. Carnaval is celebrated with parades, elaborate costumes and floats, and people dancing in the streets to music. Many cities in Mexico have Carnaval celebrations though they vary in size. The largest events normally take place in port cities, with the biggest celebration being held in Mazatlan. The celebrations in Mazatlan are said to attract hundreds of thousands of people but there are also festivities in port cities such as La Paz, Cozumel, Veracruz, and Ensenada.
History of Carnaval
Carnaval was brought to Mexico by the Spanish during the colonial period and was accepted by indigenous people due to the fact that the celebration coincided with other festivals. The holiday of Carnaval is celebrated as the last chance for the indulgence of carnal pleasures that must be given up by Catholics for 40 days during Lent. Traditionally, Carnaval celebrations are biggest during the weekend of the five day celebration. The wearing of masks during Carnaval celebrations is said to have originated from a pagan practice as protection against evil spirits. While this is one theory, it is also thought that masks are worn as a way to participate in celebrations while maintaining a bit of anonymity. Carnaval is a significant holiday in more than two hundred communities in Mexico. Celebrations vary widely with smaller communities often maintaining elements of religion and their indigenous heritage.
Throughout Carnaval, there are many activities and events that take place. Wherever the holiday is celebrated, whole towns generally participate and party not only during the day but into the night. People dress is masquerade outfits complete with masks while enjoying food, alcohol, and other drinks. People of all ages take part in the celebrations and throw cascarones that break open. Cascarones are eggshells filled with confetti. In addition to food and drinks, there are various booths set up in towns that host festivities. These booths offer snacks, crafts, games, drinks, and food. Throughout the festival, music is played nonstop either by DJ’s, or live bands. The cities that host the biggest festivities also often have rides similar to those found at amusement parks. Also depending on the city, there may be masquerade balls, outdoor festivals, and organized parties. Some of these events are private and and an entrance fee is charged for admission. Mazatlan in particular hosts an offshore fireworks display.
During the final days of Carnaval, there are many different events at which awards are presented. These include literary awards among others. In the evenings of the final days of celebration, there are fireworks displays. On the Saturday of the festival, there is a coronation for the Carnaval Queen. Sunday is normally the when the largest organized celebration takes place. This is typically when a big float parade takes place. On Monday, there is the Day of the Oppressed Husband, and on this day husbands are given the freedom to do as they please within the confines of law and religion. By Fat Tuesday, most people are returning to work as the celebrations have wound down, and are prepared to start their fasting for Lent.
While the Carnaval celebrations that take place in Mexico are not as well known as those in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, the official holiday is very important to people throughout Mexico. To learn more about Mexico’s Carnaval celebrations, visit the pages listed below.