February witnesses the union of thousands of people across the world coming alive to the sounds of Carnaval, a global celebration known for its indulgence in excess and pleasure. Taking place prior to the Christian season of Lent, this gathering serves as a last opportunity for indulgence before the start of the fasting period.
With roots dating back to ancient Greece and Rome (the pagan Saturnalian festival of Ancient Rome is shown above) this time-honoured tradition has brought people together for millennia to celebrate life through music and dance. The origins of the term "Carnaval" come from the Latin word "carnelevare", which means "to remove meat", referring to the practice of fasting during Lent. Birthed initially to honour the gods of agriculture and fertility, its modern seeds come from Medieval Europe, where people dressed up in masks during religious processions to pay respects to their ancestors and deities.
Today, Carnaval is a colourful articulation of culture bringing people together with music, food, and art. It has evolved into a universal phenomenon, its significance enforced year after year. Having spread worldwide, expressions of this ritual vary from country to country, with customs and traditions unique to the host culture. Over time, this once Christian rite of passage has morphed into myriad variants, each imbued in its own local specificities.
In Brazil, whose people have turned Carnaval into their most celebrated event and the epitome of their culture, decorative floats propagate among the streets, with vast crowds of people dancing, kissing and chanting in elaborate costumes. The infamous Samba Parades in Rio de Janeiro are an explosion of colour and sound, a harmonised and joyful performance that is the result of a year-long collaborative effort. Its bright costumes, elaborate choreography and infectious music are grounded in tradition, creating an energetic atmosphere ripe for connection, regardless of culture or background. Whether you're celebrating in Brazil, New Orleans, Caracas, or anywhere else, these elements come together to create a powerful message of community, collaboration and freedom of expression.
Another characteristic of Carnaval is the inversion of societal norms. During this period, class distinctions are erased and the traditional social order is turned on its head. This reversal is celebrated through parades and costumes infused with a strong satirical component, with grotesque characters embodied by the participants. These carnivalesque masks are nothing new, and have been used since ancient times, serving both as protection from evil spirits and an outlet for individual creativity. At its core, Carnaval serves as a platform for self-expression. It allows people to drive positive change through collective creativity, challenge outmoded beliefs and systems, and bring about constructive dialogue while allowing them to express themselves through music and art.
By coming together for this ritualistic event and honouring the historical significance of this timeless tradition, participants are able to bring a sense of unity and understanding between cultures, generations and communities. We invite you to take part of this worldwide gathering and to celebrate this joyous occasion every year, both here and abroad.