As the winter cold comes to an end, spring follows. Many of you can feel the atmospheric changes and are eagerly looking forward to it. We can all agree that spring is a great time of year, however, it gives birth to more than just cool air, sun and barbeques. In major cities across the United States, spring is the start of Carnival season. Carnival is an explosion of Caribbean tradition and culture. It’s a Caribbean party that celebrates decades of history. This festival of colors, costumes, calypso, steel band music, dance and ethnic food attracts millions of people from around the globe.
What is carnival?
At its core, it’s an annual celebration of life. Whether you are of West Indian descent or not, by participating in Carnival you can learn more about ethnic people, their foods and their passions. This festival celebrates freedom through dancing, singing, parades, music, food and drink. Many Carnival celebrations include nightly displays of talented bands and individual musicians. Some even have pageants for Carnival royalty and fairs showcasing local crafts.
However, don’t be fooled into believing that Carnival is just a large party. It is truly a celebration of the history of West Indian culture and tradition.
Where did the word “carnival” come from?
Centuries ago, a tradition was started by the Italian Catholics to hold wild costume festivals right before the first day of Lent. Since Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which means, “to put away the meat.” Over time, these celebrations became quite famous and spread to France, Spain, Africa and then all of the Catholic countries in Europe.
Like other cultures, Africans put their unique spin on these large festivals. African celebrations included people parading and moving in circles through villages in costumes and masks. As they circled villages, it was alleged that they brought good fortune to it. Many believed that festival participants also brought the power to heal problems and the ability to reach out to deceased relatives who passed into the next world. By the early 19th century, nearly 6 million slaves from Africa had been brought to the Caribbean. Between 1836 and 1917, bonded workers from Europe were brought to the Caribbean as well. These descendants of Africa and Europe brought their rich festival traditions with them to their new West Indian homes.
Why should you attend Carnival?
Carnival is a great time to bring your family, friends and associates to a learning experience filled with food, fun and festivities! Whether witnessing or participating in Caribbean dance and music; you will feel transformed as the steel band music takes control of your body.
Additionally, Carnival arts offer all of us a dynamic tool for self-expression and exploration. These amazing works of art showcase the richness of Caribbean roots and culture.
No matter your background, you will gain something from this experience!
Non-West Indians will learn of the beauty and depth of the Caribbean people. At the same time, West Indians now living in America will feel reconnected to their heritage. Collectively, the power and creativity of the artwork can truly transform your life.
Beyond the cultural significance, today’s Carnival in America provides the following:
• A year-round business that provides enjoyment to millions of people
• Increases tourism and generates revenue for different city governments
• Provides employment and social stability
• Pays tribute to an art form in cities where Carnival is kept
Please don’t deny yourself a truly amazing cultural experience.
Check your local city event calendar for Carnival times and locations. You will not be disappointed!