Carnaval TodayOriginEvolutionCarnaval Around the WorldCarnival StoriesContact Us

© Parisian Masqueraders in a Grand Promenade
Color lithograph
Paris, France, 1804
Photograph courtesy of the National Library, Paris

The pre-Lenten Carnival celebration began in the Middle Ages among elite members of society, but was gradually embraced by the larger population in cities and rural communities throughout Europe. By the 15th and 16th centuries Carnival had become a rowdy tradition featuring boisterous games and masquerades adopted from a variety of late winter and early spring festive practices with pre-Christian roots. This was a time for ritual and play. By engaging in irony, disguise, laughter, and revelry, people sought renewal and growth for themselves and their communities. Carnival continued to evolve in Europe throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, while colonists from Spain, Portugal, and France carried this festival tradition into North and South America.

© Carnival in the Republic of Bolivia
Watercolor by Melchor María Mercado
La Paz, Bolivia, 1859
Photograph courtesy of Peter McFarren,
Quipus Cultural Foundation, La Paz

The political and industrial revolutions of the 19th century had a significant effect on Carnival celebrations on all three continents. As the festivities began to be viewed as civic events by newly formed governments, urban street parades became more structured. Groups from different neighborhoods and workers' guilds competed with one another for the best performances. Indians and freed Africans throughout the Americas now joined into the celebration contributing new expressive forms to this dynamic event. Through periods of repression and revival, the popularity of Carnival continued to grow throughout the 20th century and today millions of people participate annually in the celebration.

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Recife and Olinda, Brazil | Tlaxcala, Mexico | Venice, Italy | Laza, Spain
New Orleans, USA | Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago | Basel, Switzerland | Oruro, Bolivia
Museum of International Folk Art; Museum Hill, Santa Fe

New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs