Sept. 25, 2011 – Jan. 8, 2012


Carnival FAQ’s

What is Carnival?

Carnival began as the stretch of time where people were allowed to play and eat meat before Ash Wednesday. In order to prepare for Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Catholic Church asked Christians  to observe a few days of fasting. Eventually, the fast of a few days turned into forty days. This fasting period became known as Lent. In addition to meals and certain kinds of food, the Church insisted people abstain from sin and vice. Today, Carnival is the period prior to Lent where people can take part in irony, laughter, masquerades, and festivities. 

When did Carnivals start?

The first known celebration of pre-Lenten fast is from an early-12th century Roman text. This included a parade through the city, the killing of steers and other animals. Over the next few centuries, the festival grew in popularity and decadance, eventually incorporating other pre-Christian seasonal celebrations. Carnivals became a secular event symbolizing the seasonal changes from winter to spring and the marker of Catholic Lent.

Carnival, Carnaval, Carnevale… what’s the difference?

The Latin term carnem-levare—to remove oneself from flesh of meat—was used to refer to the earliest Roman festivals. As the pre-Lenten celebrations spread across Europe, the names have changed too. Italians shortened the name to Carnevale (flesh farwell). Carnaval is the Spanish and Portugese translation, and Carnival is English.

You may also hear the terms Karneval (German translation), Fasnacht (Swiss-German “night before fasting”), and Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”).

Why display ¡Carnaval! when it’s not Carnival season?

Even though it is not Carnival season, it doesn’t mean the traditions and history of Carnivals can’t be celebrated! Viewers will be transported behind-the-scenes to the people who plan, create, and carry out these festivities. The exhibit runs up to the beginning of the Carnival season, just in time for spectators to enjoy the celebrations. 

Map of Carnival Celebrations
(click on map to view full size)
carnival art
Chivarrudo. Tlaxcala, Mexico, 1999. Photograph by Barbara Mauldin