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Carnival around the world

by FeliciaReading time: 7 min.
Carnival around the world
After Christmas and Valentines’ Day, here we come to one of the funniest holidays you can celebrate with your Host Kids: Carnival! Everybody knows Carnival and those crazy days in February or March when masks, costumes and parades colours the streets. Nowadays, it is mostly associated with kids, the real protagonists of this feast, but Carnival wasn’t born as a celebration for kids… at all! It dates back to many centuries ago, when the ancient Egyptians used to bid farewell to winter and welcome spring. Let’s find out the true history of Carnival, then, and the most famous traditions all around the world. From Brazil to Germany, you will learn how Carnival is celebrated. Enjoy your reading and get ready to party!

The true history of Carnival

Let’s begin from the start. What does Carnival mean? The origin of this word is kind of blurry. It actually comes from Latin and it’s a compound of carne (meat) and levamen (remove/take away).
At the same time, others refer to the image of the carrus navalis (literally sea-waggon), very popular among the Egyptians. These two different meanings already tell us something about Carnival. Let’s delve into the details!

“Take the meat away” clearly refers to the Christian habit to fast before Lent. Carnival is in fact one of the pagan celebration that the Catholic Church took and reinterpreted according to the Christian faith. 
In Rome, many years before Christ, people used to celebrate the end of the winter and the rebirth of fertility, referring to the god Saturn. Those feasts were known as the Saturnalia, a crazy time when the world was literally upside down. During these days, the slaves of ancient Rome could pretend to be their masters, getting a sort of revenge against them: they could offend them with words (and actions) and behave in a way that was prohibited in the everyday life. Rules and social norms were completely reversed.
The carrus navalis, on the other hand, may refer to a celebration common among the Egyptians dedicated to the goddess Isis, characterised by processions and costumes, as for the modern Carnival! The Romans took inspiration from the carrus navalis and included it in their culture.
Carnival has always been characterised by eating, drinking and questionable behaviour and this tradition spread during the Middle Ages arriving until the most recent times.
Today, every country celebrates Carnival differently but the main day remains Mardi gras, from the French “Fat Tuesday”, where Fat refers to the extreme wealth before fasting.

Carnival symbols

If I say Carnival, masks and costumes will be the first things that come to your mind and this is for a good reason. Since its origins, Carnival has been a symbol of rebellion against the norms and transgression. Is there a better way to represent them, than pretending to be somebody else? On Carnival everybody's free to dress up as whoever they want without being regarded as fools. 
Carnival is the triumph of colours, thanks to the confetti. Actually, there is a funny story about this word. In the past, during Carnival, pastries and sweets (especially sugar-coated almonds) were thrown in the street, stating the exaggerated wealth during the feast. Then, the tradition changed and the pastries became small pieces of coloured papers, which are also used during wedding days as a symbol of fertility and good luck! Which is the funny part? Well, in Italian the word confetti uniquely refers to the sugar-coated almonds, whereas the pieces of paper are called coriandoli. Here you are a fine false friend between English and Italian.

Carnival around the world

The most famous Carnival in the world is without any doubt the Brazilian Carnival. Rio de Janeiro hosts millions of visitors who have the opportunity to witness an unique celebration. What makes Rio special is the cultural combination between the Portuguese and the African tradition, which met many years ago during the colonization. The result is now a mixture of dance (samba do Brasil!), rhythms and music which make the Carnival of Rio rather spectacular. From the Friday to the Ash Wednesday, samba schools are the protagonists of Carnival: the best schools in Brazil perform in the Sambodromo in a real competition! Otherwise, you can wander around the thousands neighborhoods in Brazil to find the big street parties organized by the blocos, “street groups”.
People get crazy about Carnival  in Germany too! 
The most popular Carnival in Germany is held in Cologne: street parties, parades, masks and costumes, you can really find anything you want during the so-called “crazy days”! People come from all over Europe to take part in the amazing Cologne carnival. 
On Thursday, Cologne celebrates the Women’s Carnival, where ladies in fancy dress wander around the streets, waiting for the official opening at 11:11 am in the historical central market of the town. Since the German winter is famous to be not that friendly, people have to keep themselves warm, so take a Schnaps and get ready for the party! At 11:11 the three Carnival figures of the Prince, the Maiden and the Peasant officially open the Carnival week! From Thursday to Sunday various traditional celebrations are held in every neighborhood. Monday is Rosenmontag, with the traditional procession of the three main characters of Cologne’s Carnival.
The Carnival of Venice is known all around the world too! Venice colours itself with various traditional masks and costumes. Loads of traditional shops, work all year long in order to create the most amazing costumes ever, which are extremely expensive. The celebration begins officially with the Volo dell'angelo, “flight of the angel”, where a mask flies over the main square thanks to a rope.
In Ivrea, in the north of Italy, people are still celebrating the Battle of the Oranges, a tradition from the Middle Ages with which the inhabitants of the city commemorating the liberation of Ivrea from the tyrants.
The most famous Carnival celebration in the US helds in New Orleans. It established after the French arrived in 1699, naming the place Pointe du Mardi Gras, as it was the day before the French holiday. During the 18th and 19th century, Carnival parades spread throughout the city, anticipating the current Carnival. Nowadays, New Orleans celebrates Carnival with balls, costumes and parties everywhere.

Want to head towards a more exotic place? Then choose Goa, a state in Western India, which takes Carnival really seriously. Goa used to be a Portuguese colony and Carnival was brought by the European settlers in 1700. The celebration is unique in India and involves parades, bands, dances and parties everywhere. The main figure of the Goa Carnival is the king Momo who leads the procession, together with many other funny costumes. At the end of Carnival a beautiful red-and-black dance performs along the streets of Goa.

Carnival as an Au Pair

Kids love Carnival, that’s a fact. But every country has its own special tradition for Carnival. As an Au Pair, you have the possibility to find out how your Host Country celebrates Carnival. Apart from the specific traditions, there are various activities that will make your kids have so much fun, no matter where they live.

Create your own costumes!

We all know that Carnival can be a really expensive holiday for the Host Families. Kids grow up so fast that it’s almost impossible to find a costume which will last for more than 1 year. That’s why your family will sincerely appreciate your handmade costumes. With cardboard, papier-maché and old clothes (get out your 80s clothes, Host parents!), markers and make-up for kids you can create amazing and original costumes! Try to google “Carnival costumes for kids”. You will be surprised by all the options that you will find. Your Host Kids will have so much fun during all the creative process. Take your time to work at their costumes and you will do a great job!


Well, since Carnival has plenty of traditional food, you can also take advantage of the kitchen and prepare something with the Kids. Try with the easiest recipes, since most of them require frying, which could be dangerous.

Carnival parties everywhere!

As an Au Pair, you will probably have to drive your Host Kids to their friends' parties or maybe they are going to host their friends at home. That’s a wonderful opportunity to train your children entertaining abilities! Songs, dances and makeup… at the end of the day you won’t have any energy left, but it will be worth it! Your Host Kids will be happy to have the best Au Pair of the neighborhood :) And who knows.... maybe you may consider becoming a child entertainer after your Au Pair experience!

Carnival food

Every celebration has its proper food and Carnival is particularly rich of delicious treats, no matter where you go. On of the reasons why there are so many typical dishes is the fasting afterwards: people had to be prepared and to eat as much as possible, before the strict fast regime started. All the fried and sweet food was supposed to give enough energy to everybody
If you happen to be in Germany during Carnival, the bakeries will offer you a huge variety of pastries. Among them you will find the famous Krapfen or Berliner, a sort of fried donuts without the hole in the middle, filled with marmalade or chocolate. Very similar but at the same time very different, the Amerikaner: round cookies with frosted vanilla or chocolate on the top. Last but not least, the Muzen! Delicious fried sweets, made of eggs, flours and tons of sugar… yummy!
In Italy you will find as much fried treats as in Germany. From the traditional frittelle, fried pastries, with or without rice, available practically everywhere, to the Chiacchiere (literally Chats), Cenci or Sfrappole, (the name varies according to the region), basically fried sweet crisp pastry made out of dough, shaped into various forms and sprinkled with powdered sugar. And then my favourites, the delicious Castagnole, sweet dough balls, soft and crunchy… Delicious!
In Brazil, apart from partying, you will find the traditional feijoada, a plate with pork, beans and rice, together with the brigadeiros, a dessert made of chocolate truffles, with condensed milk and cocoa. 
On Carnival you can also enjoy the taste of the king cake, made with brioche dough, cinnamon and sugar. There are lots of varieties of the king cake’s around the world, especially in the US.
Are you hungry by now? Then, get ready for Carnival and enjoy this celebration with your Host Kids! Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us what is your favourite thing about Carnival!
No hay que llorar, que la vida es un carnaval, que es más bello vivir cantando! 
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