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Let’s Celebrate!

Let’s Celebrate!
  • Saints and Festivals : A Cycle of the Ye... (by )
  • Handbook of the Carnival, Containing Mar... (by )
  • Gleanings from Venetian History (by )
  • Brazil and the Brazilians : Portrayed in... (by )
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It’s time to celebrate Carnival and Mardi Gras! These colorful fetes are associated with Catholicism and the observance of Lent, a 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at midnight on Easter Saturday. Carnival celebrations are all about the revelry and indulgence that precedes fasting (which includes abstaining from meat). It’s widely believed that the word “Carnival” comes from carne levare, which means “remove meat.”

In Saints and Festivals, Mother Salome writes, “The three Sundays Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, bring us by easy steps within sight of Lent, the Church’s time for penance and fasting and prayer. ‘yet forty days!’ is the cry” (p. 89).

Long before Catholicism, the pagans celebrated Saturnalia, an ancient Roman winter solstice festival that honored Saturn, the agricultural god. Celebration included public banquets, lots of partying, and a lively carnival atmosphere that reversed social norms.  The celebrations entailed singing, music, gambling, and gift-giving.

These festivities eventually evolved into the vibrant festivals we’re familiar with today and which are held annually in New Orleans, Brazil, and Italy among other destinations worldwide. 

In New Orleans, people celebrate Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.” In Handbook of the Carnival, John W. Pub. Madden writes,

At these festivals men and women, becoming intoxicated in honor of the god, dressed in grotesque manner, many crowned with wreaths, run about committing all kinds of excesses, accompanied by others, playing on different musical instruments, and singing the wildest of songs. These festivities having taken root in the hearts of the people, were continued in a modified form, even after the establishment of Christianity among them, and although not celebrated in honor of heathen gods, they have descended to our day, and are enjoyed with so much zest, that they are looked forward to for months. (p. 4)
In Gleanings from Venetian History, Francis Marion Crawford focuses on Italian celebrations. He writes, “The central point of all amusement in Carnival was theatre, for the Venetians always had a passion for spectacles” (p. 675).

Brazil’s earlier version of Carnival was called “Entrudo” (which means entrance to Lent). It was a playful, often violent, fete that involved minor rioting and the destruction of property. In Brazil and the Brazilians: Portrayed in Historical and Descriptive Sketches, Daniel Parish Kidder writes, “The Intrudo, answering to the Carnival in Italy, extends through the three days preceding Lent, and is generally entered upon by the people with an apparent determination to redeem time for amusement in advance of the long restraint anticipated” (p. 148).

Historically, elaborate costumes and masks enabled revelers to escape their realities and experience a heightened sense of social unity among the classes. During Brazil’s colonial days, these grand parties offered an opportunity for indigenous populations and slaves to celebrate.

By Regina Molaro

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