One of the most important times of the Catholic calendar is almost upon us: Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Catholics begin to prepare for the Easter celebration with prayers, small sacrifices of our favorite things , and personal reflection. This is also the time of year when Catholics refrain from eating meat on Fridays, which is why many people organize a symbolic goodbye party for the meat…”Carne Vai”, the carnival.
These popular festivals, which date back to distant times and places, have taken root among the people living in Latin America, and are known for their warm and festive nature. Mexico is not the exception: in this country, carnivals are an excuse to have fun and experience abundance. People dance until dawn, listen to live music, eat a lot and laugh until their stomachs hurt… the streets of the towns and cities become the stage for a great party which everyone can join.
Carnival in Campeche:
Mexico’s oldest carnival begins with the funeral procession and the burial of the bad mood. It is represented by a rag doll dressed as a pirate, which is paraded through the city streets and boardwalk, to be then placed in a coffin and burned.
Once the bad mood has gone, the flower festival begins, a parade of floats decorated with paper flowers, and there is folk dancing, lasting day and night (such as the Hat Dance). On “wet Monday”, prior to Ash Wednesday, the children of Campeche throw balloons filled with water. On “painters Tuesday”, neighbors gather to paint each other.
Carnival in Merida:
Having a long tradition, the Merida carnival takes place within a family environment. Over the course of eight days, several cultural and entertainment activities take place, such as the coronation of the king and queen and the burning of the bad mood. The latter event is held in the city’s main square; it begins by reading aloud the conviction of the bad mood, setting fire to a figure representing it, followed by a colorful fireworks display.
The festival continues with the hilarious battle of flowers (in which participants throw flowers at each other), endless theme parades (featuring costumes, floats, and folk dances, among others), and dancing to the beat of mambo, cumbia and salsa. Those who are still eager to dance can sing along with the songs of national and international artists that perform at the palenque (arena).
The Merida carnival ends with the burial of Juan Carnaval (Carnival John), during which a will is read, and the “widows”, mourn his death. This is one of the most heavily attended ceremonies of this festival.
The theme for the 2013 carnival will be “Mystic Merida” in reference to the Maya cultural wealth and the blending of fantasy with reality. Its symbol is a giant ceiba, sacred tree of the Maya people.
A sampling of the cultural syncretism, of the blend of indigenous and European traditions, these festivals reflect the joyful and mocking spirit of the Mexican people. It is said that the country’s ancient inhabitants held parties in which they poked fun at their Spanish masters, mocking the way they dressed, spoke, and their lifestyle in general.
Carnivals are held between February and March, just before Lent, a period for meditation and reflection. Get ready to have fun and participate in the celebrations of Mexico!