Bright colors and costumes. Feasting and revelry. Long days of drinking and nights of dancing. And the floats. Don’t forget the floats. The festival originated with Italian Catholics in Europe, and it later spread to the French and Spanish, who brought the pre-Lenten tradition with them when they settled Trinidad, Dominica, Haiti, Martinique, and other Caribbean islands. The various celebrations have allowed for outside cultural influence to create the unique Carnival celebration that we know today.
The word “carnival” itself is thought to mean “farewell to meat” or “farewell to flesh,” the former referencing the Catholic practice of abstaining from red meat from Ash Wednesday until Easter. The “farewell to flesh” translation is said to be emblematic of the sensuous abandon that came to define the Caribbean celebration of the holiday.
Meat and other treats, such as those with high sugar, fat and dairy content, are enjoyed in plenty on the days and weeks leading up to Lent, culminating with a grand celebration on Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras for the French). Mardi Gras is a popular holiday in the United States, where it was first celebrated in Mobile, Ala., only later calling New Orleans home. Carnival came to the United States by way of French traders in the New World, just as the Spanish and Portuguese brought carnival celebrations to the Caribbean and Latin America.
But Carnival is not just about food and drinking. In Brazil, professional samba dancers perform to captive audiences, complete with dazzling costumes and floats. Likewise, Louisiana has dozens upon dozens of krewes dedicated to Mardi Gras festivities. Some krewes have been around for centuries, others only a few years. All have restrictive membership policies, with membership sometimes even being anonymous or secret. Parades are normally held at night, but some happen during the day as well. In 1872, Mardi Gras adopted its official colors: green, gold and purple.
In Trinidad, musicians storm the streets with calypso, soca and steel bands. What are steel bands? Music played on steel pans of course! Like in Brazil and New Orleans, Trinidad hosts numerous parades in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday — the start of Lent. Trinidadians celebrate for a whole week leading up to Lent. The Saturday before Carnival is called Panorama, during which steel bands from all over compete to see which is the best. The following Sunday is Dimanche Gras, another musical show/competition during which calypso singers compete for bragging rights the entire year. J’ouvert, the official start of Carnival, is a dance party through the streets before the sun comes up. Carnival itself lasts the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
Piedmont North will be celebrating its own Carnival February 26. It’s sure to be a night of festive fun, with plenty of plastic beads and coins to go around. Expect lots of color, lots of treats and lively calypso music. There will be an entire table devoted to dessert, while main course options will include roast pork, pineapple mushroom pizza, and bait and shark (a type of fried shark fritter). There will also be street tacos, cob fritters and grilled corn, just the sort of things you’d find walking the streets of Trinidad or Brazil during Carnival. There will be a balloon arch over the entrance way, as well as masks and hats for visitors to wear while they chow down. There will also be a popcorn machine and snow cones. Just look out for all the feathers and brightly colored decorations!
Real, Honest-to-Bob Sources:
CARNIVAL IN TRINIDAD: CELEBRATE THE CARIBBEAN WAY. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Curley, C. (2020, January 29). Cultures Combine to Make Carnival in the Caribbean. Retrieved from https://www.tripsavvy.com/brief-history-carnival-in-caribbean-1488004
Mardi Gras History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/history/
Mould, C. (2010, February 16). CNN Fact Check: Where was the first U.S. Mardi Gras held? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/02/16/fact.check.mardi.gras/index.html
Sim, D. (2019, March 4). The first night of Rio de Janeiro’s spectacular carnival, in pictures. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/rio-de-janeiro-carnival-2019-parades-part-1-spectacular-floats-dancers-1350769
Valdez, M. G. (2015, February 17). What Is Carnival? 6 Things To Know About Festive Season. Retrieved from https://www.latintimes.com/what-carnival-6-things-know-about-festive-season-296292
What is Carnival: Rio Carnival. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.riocarnaval.org/rio-carnival/what-is