Carnival (sometimes spelled carnaval in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries) is a Western Christian tradition intended to celebrate in the biggest way before abstention from alcohol, meat, and pleasure. The celebrations lead up to Easter Sunday in the Catholic tradition. The most opulent costumes and parades come out for carnival where everyone is dancing, laughing, and reveling in all their glory. Here are the five grandest carnivals in the five regions where it is celebrated.
Caribbean: Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
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The oldest and biggest carnaval in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba’s festival is compared to Rio de Janeiro’s in Brazil and Mardi Gras’ in New Orleans. The festivities usually take place in late July, starting Monday the 24th to Wednesday the 26th to coincide with St. James the Apostle’s Day but continue celebrating until the end of the month.
The Fiesta del Fuego, the warmup celebration to the carnaval, a week long street party from July 1st to the 8th, features traditional Afro-Cuban music bands, dances, food and more. The Museo del Carnival located on Heredia Street (the most famous street in the city) is dedicated to the history of the festival.
Central America: Las Tablas, Panama
Also recognized alongside Mardi Gras and Rio de Janeiro carnavals, the celebration in Panama dates back to the early 1900s. Towns are partying, dancing, drinking and eating for four days straight leading up to Ash Wednesday. Known for its grandest celebration, Las Tablas is located 130 miles west of Panama City. This year the celebration begins on Saturday, February 25th to Wednesday, March 1st, Ash Wednesday.
One of the longest celebrated carnival on this list, Veracruz, located in the north of Mexico, celebrates for seven days. Although Mazatlan is the oldest, Veracruz is the largest. While many might assume Mexico doesn’t have African influences, Veracruz is one of the towns that has heavy African traditions, especially noticeable through music. This year the celebration begins on Wednesday, February 22nd to Tuesday, February 28th. More details here.
South America: Brazil
Rio de Janeiro in Brazil takes the spot for the biggest and most famous carnaval in the world! The word Carnival comes from the Portuguese ‘Carne Vale’ which means ‘Farewell to meat.’ It was actually the Roman Catholic Church who placed the traditions of what Carnival is today where festivities lead up to Ash Wednesday. But it was the Portuguese who cultivated it and gave it birth in Brazil. Hence, Brazil is the mamá of all carnivals. This year it will take place from Friday, February 24th to Tuesday, February 28th, but celebrations really begin in December.
United States: Mardi Gras, New Orleans
The famous Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana celebrates with one parade each day for two weeks. The celebration goes back to a French-Canadian explorer named Jean Baptiste on March 2, 1699 who named a plot of land Pointe du Mardi Gras around the same time as Ash Wednesday. By the 1830s, the processions became sophisticated and complex leading up to what the carnival is today. The main five days of the festival is from Friday, February 24th to Tuesday, February 28th.