By Laís Oliveira | English Edition: Ann Fain
Although the origins and stories behind the celebrations are different, Carnival and Halloween have some remarkable features in common: fun, revelry and costumes. Held annually in different countries, both celebrations attract millions of people who love to party, dance, play, and pretend to be someone else behind the often irreverent masks and costumes – that is the joy of holiday!
Despite the fact that Halloween did not originate in the United States, the country celebrates Halloween more than any other country in the world. The holiday’s origin is actually derived from an ancient ritual of the Celts, a people who inhabited Britain and France before the Christian era. The date symbolized the end of the harvest and the arrival of the Celtic New Year, an essentially launched winter, “the dark and cold season.”
On that day, the Celts celebrated the “Festival of the Sun”. Legend said that during that night ghosts, fairies, and demons were on the loose. This tale originated the tradition of frightening fantasies: the Celts wore heads and skins of animals slaughtered for the winter. They offered milk and food (now replaced by sweets) to calm the spirits and lit bonfires to scare them.
The macabre spirit eventually gave way to joy and the fun of dressing up to become any character you want during the party. What really counts is the creativity and enthusiasm. Different than Halloween, Carnival is a popular festival with its own regional characteristics, but it almost always includes entertainment, dancing, music and, like Halloween, costumes.
Despite being called Brazilian, Carnival actually has European roots. The tradition of celebrating in the streets comes from Ancient Rome: the Saturnalia was celebrated by slaves, calling to the god Saturn for warmer weather. Revelers have always been the strong point of the festival, marked by excesses from its origins, they escaped the punishments using disguises.
Even the elite entered the climate: in fifteenth-century Italy the nobility wore masks to hide their identity and they joined with the people of the poorer classes in the merriment of court dances. Previously, the use of masks and wigs was one of the party’s strengths and attracted many people. Today, the main attractions of Carnival are the street partying that joins different audiences and the color of the creative and curious costumes that entertain all generations.
The style of the costumes also changed over the years, after all the carnival is contextualized with time. Freedom, globalization, and the mixture of cultures brought global issues for the carnival scene, such as masks or costumes like Obama, Bin Laden, soccer players, or successful film characters, among others. Creativity and improvisation also became more common and eventually replaced the ancient, ritualistic and detailed preparation fantasies.
Carnival rituals are more common among those who are part of the samba schools famous for creating elaborate, well-crafted parades, very common in some states of Brazil. To celebrate or partake in Halloween or Carnival, then and now, is to get carried away by the music, the colors, the feast of rhythm and joy. It is to put the normal routine aside and play in the merriment. It is to dress up in a cheerful, different, creative or bizarre fashion. It is to masquerade, surprise, provoke laughter, and to join with loved ones to dance and enjoy the feast days without shame of being happy.