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Colourful Celebrations That
Brighten Up Wintertime Blues

Posted by Cindy Clarke on 1/22/2015
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Europe, New Orleans, Tauck Events, Carnaval, Carnival, Cologne, Nice, Quebec City, Rio de Janeiro, Venice

carnaval lead image 


If the mere thought of spending a long cold winter inside has you shivering with dread, warm up with thoughts about colourful celebrations around the world that parade into February with all the heat and excitement of a summertime soiree.

We’re talking about Carnival (or Carnaval as they say it in Rio), those annual pre-Lenten February festivities that samba, sashay, strut, sing and celebrate, in all manner of masquerade and tradition, each country’s respective history and cultures. 

They’re rooted in ritual, with some dating back to ancient times, and many share a common theme of parody and satire that plays out in street performances unique to each destination. We’ve included some of the best-known Carnivals here, but you’ll find lots more in cities and towns all over the world.

What happens, where?

france carnival 4In France, the most anticipated mid-winter party procession is the Nice Carnival. Held annually since 1294, the Nice Carnival promenades along the French Riviera with masked merry-makers, traditional papier mâché figures, gaily decorated floats and “flower battles” that typically attract millions of visitors. In 2015, the party goes on day and night from February 13 to March 1, with dazzling festivities designed to banish the dullness of winter and welcome in the sun. Up to 100,000 flowers (90 percent are locally produced) are thrown out to the enthusiastic crowd along the parade route, including gladioli, mimosas, Gerber daisies, roses and carnations.

german carnival 4Although records state that Germany’s Carnivals began in 1296, its first worldwide Carnival (Karneval or Fasching) took place in Cologne in 1823 and continues today with weeks of politically charged parades, parties and costume balls from November through February that become more exuberant until it all ends at midnight the night before Ash Wednesday. Full of good spirit and “folksy” fun, Karneval is a favourite way for the locals to celebrate after a long winter – and to indulge in Kreppel, delicious jam donuts, virtually irresistible to refuse!

venice carnival 2In Italy, Venetians have been celebrating Carnival from mid-February until Shrove or Fat Tuesday (March 4) since 1268, donning the signature handcrafted masks the city is known for. Possibly the world’s most romantic Carnival destination, here the ladies dress up in Renaissance-era gowns, the men don ruffled coats and powdered wigs and striped-shirted gondoliers ferry partygoers to elaborate banquets and masquerade balls. The city’s piazzas are alive with jugglers, acrobats and musicians before the celebration ends with a lavish ball and fireworks in front of the Plaza Ducale.

quebec carnivalQuebec City, Canada, makes the most of its icy temperatures in late January and the first weeks of February at a carnival that’s deemed the largest winter-themed carnival in the world. Ice sculptures, snowball fights, go-kart, canoe and sleigh races, ice palaces, night parades with fancifully dressed creatures and more transform the city into a winter wonderland that warms hearts and ignites the imagination. The 2015 Winter Carnival, from January 30 to February 15, will feature over 200 activities throughout the city.

new orleans mardi gras 3Home to the biggest street party in the United States, New Orleans becomes Carnival Central during Mardi Gras when the city lets the good times roll with beads, brass bands and streetcars carrying costumed revelers. Important to note, Mardi Gras illustrates the story of Carnival throughout the New World, giving voice and creative expression to people of African descent who were initially excluded from the festivities when they first began. Spectators and members of tribes competing for the title of “prettiest” big chief, march and dance to the sounds of jazz, blues and West African chants, making the fantastical street celebrations even more fun for everyone.

rio carnaval 2But it is Carnaval, a wild 5-day celebration that can trace its root back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who celebrated the rites of Spring, in Rio de Janeiro where you’ll find the biggest and most spectacular artistically inspired celebration in the world. This is where and when Rio’s famous samba schools (social clubs representing a particular neighborhood) compete in the streets all night long. Themed floats and costumed dancers, bodies painted and often wearing huge plumed headdresses, mesmerize the crowds, thousands strong, as they samba to their club’s music and songs. Street bands too take their place on the procession line, marching along a predetermined route or staying in one place to wow the crowds with their orchestral compositions. It officially starts on a Friday, (in 2015 it starts on February 13, summertime in Rio) and finishes on Fat Tuesday, for a euphoric 5-day event showcasing the true culture of Brazil. While Tauck's Rio de Janeiro Event is sold out for 2015, take a look at other annual Events made even more memorable when you experience them with Tauck!
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