Carnival, we all have seen or heard about it. We’ve all seen the majestic samba women, dressed in flashy costumes, with feathers, dancing in a frenzied state. We’ve also seen the obscure masks the Venetians wear. Or the two-story floats marching the streets. Most of us have participated either as children or even as adults. Dancing away, drinking, eating, having weird food fights and playing treasure hunts. It’s a tradition for many countries and the fascinating thing is that it has become universal.
The Origins of Carnival
Whenever you encounter dancing, costumes, fires, and plenty of food (and other more “sinister” endeavors) happening freely, one thing is always true: It’s a tradition stemming from paganism and old religions.
And that is indeed the case for the carnival. Similar celebrations were happening in ancient Greece, Italy, Germany, Norway and other nations. Either called “Dionysian” or “Kronia” or “Saturnalia”, they usually involved plenty of food and the reversal of the roles. It was a way for the poor to have the opportunity to eat good and the rich to have the opportunity to behave without the societal norms limiting them (hence wearing the masks).
Later on, Christianity dominated the world, but in order to assimilate into society, it had to incorporate pagan traditions. And since Christianity spread to the end of the world, the Carnival did as well. Of course, every individual culture adopted the tradition, giving it its own spin.
Carnival: Here Comes Capitalism!
I wouldn’t want to bore you with historical details, but the only value system bigger than Christianity was and still is capitalism. And man did the carnival fit right in the spirit of it. “Booze, dancing, excessive food, consumerism… damn, count me in! But… how are we gonna make a profit?”
And this is the major reason why a small city in Greece, Patra, is dancing to the same rhythm Rio de Janeiro in Brazil does. Did you know that the average person in Brazil pays from $500-$900 to dance and participate in the parade? Or that in Greece, the average drink skyrockets from 1€ to 3€ or even 4€?!
What once was an opportunity to unite different societal classes, now is an opportunity for the markets to breathe and accumulate customers. But that’s not bad. What’s bad is that everything is getting inflated, except the quality and the treatment of people. The streets are filled with individuals selling alcohol and cheap food, unregulated of course. Let’s not talk about drugs or thieves…
What’s even more fascinating, is the fact that there are businesses surviving solely on the carnival. From making costumes to organizing even, to getting people to sign up to accompany a certain float. And the money the government spends… They can go from a few thousand dollars into the millions.
Reading back, it doesn’t seem that the carnival is THAT bad. And I agree. Compared to other “traditions” like Valentine’s day or Christmas, the carnival is actually pretty close to the real thing, except that you have to pay for the experience.
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