Join the merrymaking!

  • TEXT EMILY BARTELS
  • ILLUSTRATION JOCHEN SCHIEVINK

For some, it’s a final frolic before Lent, for others, a way to scare away winter spirits. Fools become kings, the vixen cavorts with the witch – at carnival time the world turns upside down in many cultures around the world.

USA

Feathers Galore

In New Orleans, Black Americans dressed in elaborate costumes sing and dance as the famous Mardi Gras lndians. Elsewhere in Louisiana, young men carrying willow branches or broken fishing rods chase children through the streets before initiating them into the adult world.

Brazil

Clear the path!

Der größte Karnevalsumzug der Welt bringt das Sambó­dromo in Rio de Janeiro zum Beben. Vor dem Fest wird die Strecke der Parade gewaschen, mit Duftwasser bespritzt und geweiht – von einem evangelikalen Pastor, einem katholischen Priester und den sogenannten Baianas, die afrikanischen Gottheiten huldigen. Auf den Tribünen drängen sich dann 88 500 Menschen, um das Spektakel zu sehen.

Germany

Witch hunt

Germany celebrates carnival (or Fastnacht) with a variety of traditions. In Upper Swabia, witches dance around a fire until they’re chased off by an army of fools. Other revelers don wooden masks. The very first Fastnacht procession dates back to 1349, when butchers in Nuremberg took to the streets in costumes and bearded masks to mock the city’s strict dress code.

Spain

Emigrés and animals

At the White Party on La Palma in the Canary Islands, people dress up as immigrants: the men in white suits, the women in white lace, holding parrot cages and parasols. La Vijanera in Cantabria, northern Spain, is a more morbid fiesta populated by vixens, bears and the good zarramacos warriors dressed in bells and sheepskins.

Italy

Out of the blue

The Carnival of Venice begins with the Flight of the Angel – once portrayed by rapper Coolio – who floats down to earth in a frilly costume from the top of the Campanile bell tower. The carnival fell into oblivion around 1800 but was revived roughly 200 years later as a tourist attraction.

Switzerland

Creatures of the night

The Tschäggättä who come to Lötschental in Valais canton at carnival time are terrible apparitions with mangy fur, horns and soot-covered paws. Wearing masks with hooked noses and bloodshot eyes, they roam the streets of the villages after nightfall, scaring the living daylights out of respectable folk.

Illustration: Karneval in Brasilien

Trinidad & Tobago

Drumbeats and body paint

The loudest carnival celebration takes place on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean, where musicians on steel drums compete for the most earsplitting sound. At the street party on J’ouvert, aka Shrove Monday, revelers smear their bodies with paint, mud, chocolate sauce or oil.