Carnival is a popular western celebration that takes place in many cultures in the month of February, right before Lent.
One of the most famed Carnival events is probably that in Rio de Janeiro – but how does the celebration come to fruition around Europe?
Possibly the biggest yearly event in Belgium, the Binche Carnival kicks off three days before Lent and has its origins in the 14th century. Fanciful parades steeped in folklore characterise the celebrations here, with hundreds of participants in wax masks.
Fireworks top off the event and the whole thing is so impressive it was named a Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
It might take place a week later than expected, but that’s okay. Fasnacht, as it’s called in Swiss, involves around 20,000 participants, making it an ever-popular Carnival festival in Switzerland.
It begins at 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, with a massive lantern-lit parade through the dark city streets. Festivities, music and more parades continue until 4am on Thursday morning. What a party!
In the UK, Carnival is more or less known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday. What does it involve? The eating of pancakes, of course! Why?
In past times, pancakes were a way of using up milk, eggs and other rich ingredients before the fasting of Lent. Many towns and villages also hold football games and races on the day, a tradition that stems back to medieval times.
These are no ordinary races, mind you – participants are often dressed in costume and must toss pancakes as they run!
The Cologne Carnival is one of the largest and most well known in Europe, with a huge street party taking place over a week called the “crazy days.”
School groups and neighbourhood locals partake in the various parades, but the most important is held on Rose Monday (or Rosenmontag), with a huge masquerade procession winding its way through the streets.
Canary Islands, Spain
Santa Cruz de Tenerife draws tourists from all over Europe for its Carnival, and it’s perhaps considered the only one truly on-par with the celebration in Rio. It even broke the Guinness World Record for attendance back in 2002.
It’s a dazzling, colourful festival and procession of parades that lasts for 15 days and culminates with the Burning of the Sardine, the festival spirit.
If you’re lucky enough to go, make sure you catch the Festival Queen competition – the costumes are truly spectacular.
Keen to up the formality and sophistication of your Carnival celebration? Head to Venice.
This visually stunning celebration is all about opulent costumes and elaborate masks – and you should wear one too, to get into the spirit of things.
Costume and mask contests take place throughout the festival, as does the decadent Festa Veneziana boat parade on the waters of the canal. If you can afford it, dressing up and attending one of the famous balls is something you’ll never forget.