Carnival: origins of the world’s biggest party | The Economist

Carnival started as a pagan festival in ancient Egypt and has grown to become one of the largest celebrations in the world. Today more than 50 countries celebrate the tradition, but where did the party start?

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From samba blocos in Brazil to masked balls in Italy, Carnival is a truly global phenomenon, celebrated in over 50 countries around the world.

Carnival originated as a pagan festival in ancient Egypt, to usher out winter and celebrate the beginning of spring. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, the Ancient Greeks adopted the festival.

The Romans assimilated the festival from the Greeks, and it was later overlaid with Christian meaning to become the festival of “Carne Vale”

The word, “carne” means “meat” in Latin and “vale”, means “farewell”.

In the Catholic calendar “carne vale” - farewell to meat, is a feast before the fast of Lent. In 18th century Italy, people preparing for Lent would throw indulgent fancy-dress parties and gorge before the fast.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe, so too did the celebration of carnival. Colonisation exported it across the world.

Portuguese colonists took Lent to the shores of Brazil, where they had also taken an estimated 4 million African slaves. Over time European rituals fused with African ones, to create Brazil’s world famous carnival.

The flamboyant street parties are a celebration of Brazil’s mixed heritage. And it’s big business. In 2016 the city of Rio alone welcomed 1.1 million tourists during carnival, contributing around $900 million to the city’s economy.

On the Caribbean island of Trinidad, the festival of Lent was introduced by French colonists. Slaves, excluded from these celebrations, created their own parties to the soundtrack of Calypso music, which mocked the French. This is now an integral part of Trinidad’s carnival.

In India carnival is only celebrated in the southern state of Goa, where Portuguese colonists ruled for over four centuries.
Parades occur throughout the state with bands, dances, and floats.

Carnival is known as Mardi Gras in the American city of New Orleans and contributes over 2% to the city’s GDP.

Carnival is not just a party in the sun. Quebec holds the third biggest carnival celebration in the world.

From humble beginnings carnival has become a truly global celebration with millions of revelers all over the world contributing billions of dollars to the party

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