By Lindenberg Junior | Translation: Andrea Alves
Origins of carnival have been sought in humanity’s most ancient celebrations, and are one of the oldest festivals in history. The origins of carnival festivities are often intertwined with mythological explanations, linked to figures of gods in love, tragedy and fertility cults.
Many elements of carnival rituals appear as synonymous in festivals such as the celebrations of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osier’s and the Greek goddess Ceres or Demeter. The body cult, the sensual exaltation, the apparent modification of normal rules of behaviors, all combine with carnival’s guiding principle. It is probable that on their long journeys, the Geeks had assimilated certain customs derived from Egyptian traditions.
The most recent research into European carnival shows that it originally took place in courts and urban centers, where the small aristocracy would enjoy great balls and other luxurious activities before entering the regime of Lent. The festivities gradually spread to smaller towns and rural areas, where they appeared alongside other rituals concerning the end of winter and the beginning of spring, some of which had pre-Christian roots, albeit transformed by centuries of Catholic domination.
During the 15 and 16 centuries, aspects of the ancient Roman winter and spring festivals such as Saturnals, Bachanals and Lupercals were consciously reintroduces into carnival festivities by Renaissance humanists fascinated by classical culture and wishing to revive it as part of their own expression. Thus carnival became an artistic forum for adopting different kinds of music, arts, games, masquerades, religious events and foods, depending on cultural traditions.
In rural Europe carnival festivities have a long history of medieval and renaissance traditions, such as in the city of Laza in Spain, which is characterized by theatrical performances, evenings processions to nearby villages, with revelers playing mouth-organs and rates very loud. Pre-Lenten celebrations in the ancient port of Venice began in the middles ages. Ehen the city’s great squares would be turned upside down for the aristocracy’s merrymaking, public sports contests and performances by minstrels and actors.
When the Spanish, Portuguese and French began to colonize other parts of the world in the 15 and 16 centuries, they took Catholic festival traditions with them. In its heyday in Europe, carnival was introduced to the Americas, primarily in Latin American and the Caribbean, where the festival has since appeared together with seasonal festivals and renewal rituals of local indigenous groups.
As in Europe, carnival has taken on different forms in each cultural region, city and rural area, and the movement of European colonizers from one place to another, together with the influx of African slaves, has led to the further mixing of traditions.