dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Here in the United States, we are familiar with the Mardi Gras celebration that is held each year in New Orleans.  The term "mardi gras" (French for "fat Tuesday") technically refers to just today, the last day before the beginning of Lent, and not to the weeklong celebration.

In Latin America, the pre-Lenten celebrations are referred to as "Carnaval".  "Carnaval", similar to our word carnival, has its roots in Latin.  Carne = meat, Vale = farewell   From the Middle Ages on into the 20th century, Catholics were supposed to abstain from eating meat during the forty days of Lent prior to Easter.  "Carnaval" was the last chance to feast and be merry before the period of solemn penance. 

The most lavish "Carnaval" in the world is that of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  More than two million people participate in the yearly event, which includes street festivals, elegant balls, and extravagant parades and performances by the "samba schools" that prepare all year long for the festivities.

(image taken from the web)
Carnaval in Rio

Although no place in Mexico can equal the "Carnaval" of Rio, there are a number of cities that are noted for their celebrations.  Probably the most famous "Carnaval"  in Mexico, and the only one that I have experienced, is that of the port city of Veracruz.  Back in 1973 I was a student at the University of the Americas in Cholula, Mexico.  Another student and I decided that we should go to Veracruz for the weekend, even though we had no hotel reservations.  Back in those days, the University had classes only four days a week, so on Thursday afternoon, after our classes were over, we took a bus to Veracruz.  We arrived late at night, and we were able to find a room at a hotel next to the bus station.  It was a clean, modern place, but unfortunately there would be no vacancies for the weekend.  On Friday morning we set out trying to find a place to stay.  Finally we found a room in a very dingy and, perhaps, less than respectable hotel.  But at least we had a roof over our heads for the weekend.  During the day on Friday and Saturday we did some sightseeing in the city, and at night, we observed the celebration.  There we were, a couple of "nerds", amidst the revelers throwing confetti, the dancers in the streets, and the parades.  It was interesting, but, as I said, we were observers more than participants.  We did not stay out late at night, but headed back to our dump of a hotel.
Mérida, a city which I visit frequently, is also known for its pre-Lenten celebration, but I have never been there for Carnaval.  It just did not seem the best time to enjoy the usually relaxing city.  When I have taken friends down there, I have always avoided Carnaval because I feared that they would not see the city at its best during the crowded, noisy revelry.  I have read that recently Mérida decided to move the venue outside of the city center.  "Carnaval" is now being held at the fairgrounds some distance away.  Perhaps, one of these years, I will plan to be there for the festivities.  I can head out to the fairgrounds, and when I have had my fill of the merry-making, I can retreat back to the city! 



  1. Believe it or not, San Miguel does NOT have a Carnaval. Now the restaurant, Hank's, formerly Harry's (that's another story) has a one block parade whereupon those who wish can imbibe and eat at the establishment. For the first time, it was fun. Having grown up going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans starting at the age of 14, however, it was not even remotely like my memories of debauchery...........And, that too is another story!

    1. It seems as if the highland cities of Mexico don't have big Carnaval celebrations... at least as far as I know. I have only heard of tropical or port cities, like Veracruz, Mérida, Mazatlan, Cozumel having Carnaval.