Mardi Gras celebrations take place around the world each February, as communities with roots in Catholic Christian tradition, celebrate ‘Fat Tuesday’. Some travellers relishing the spectacle may well be Europesure travel insurance policyholders and could find themselves mingling with individuals disguised by masquerade masks, or being showered with flowers or beads!
Whilst many countries celebrate Mardi Gras for several weeks (some from Epiphany on January 6 to Shrove Tuesday itself), the main impetus tends to come 4-5 days before, with the main event on the Tuesday.
These celebrations may be called Mardi Gras, Carnival or Carnaval, or Carnevale. Fundamentally, they all mark the same religious watershed – the last day on which Christians could eat rich foods, before a 40-day period of fasting, leading up to Easter.
The world’s biggest carnival takes place in Rio de Janeiro, whilst the second largest is in Barranquilla, Colombia, the home town of pop star, Shakira. Venice’s acclaimed Carnevale is potentially the oldest, with masked balls having been held in the city from 1268.
Wherever Mardi Gras celebrations take place, there is typically music, dancing and much letting down of the hair. There are packed crowds and lots of social interaction. It can be a pickpocket’s dream, but can also result in physical injuries and potential food-poisoning from the street-foods handed around. Room robberies, whilst guests are out enjoying the vibe, are also something to beware. Luckily, travel insurance can step in and help sort out many of these situations – if you remembered to buy it in advance.
Here’s a quick round-up of carnival events worldwide.
Carnival here comprises floating parades, floats and masquerade masks, rooted in carnival tradition and originally enabling common people to mock the aristocracy. They are typically based on Commedia dell’Arte characters, such as jester servant, Harlequin and greedy merchant, Pantalone. Masks were banned from 1797 to 1979. Now, 8 different masks are produced for participants and the spirit of Carnevale is fully restored. Masks do, however, make it easier to commit a crime without being recognisedI
Sardinia and Ivrea, Italy
Staying in Italy, there’s a good old nod to history, in both Sartiglia in Sardinia and Ivrea, near Turin. In the former, masked knights on horseback try to achieve the feat of spearing a star; in the latter, the town’s fight against an ancient tyrant is marked by an orange fight! Oranges are hurled on foot by one ‘team’ and from horse-carts by another. Things can get violent, so make sure you stay safe, if spectating, and have travel insurance tucked away, in case injured by the orange missiles to a degree in which you require medical treatment.
In the Tyrol, Carnival traditions go under the banner of either ‘Fastnacht’ or ‘Fasching’ and villages, across the region, engage in parades. The most spectacular parade of all (Schemenlauf) is held in Imst and has been deemed part of intangible cultural heritage, by UNESCO. It is only held once every four years and will next be staged in 2024. This event features 55 masked characters in couples, with one wearing rotating bells and the other wearing 35kg larger bells. The pair jump and bow, to create different tunes, with their movements echoed by other masked characters. Meanwhile, the crowd is hit or showered with water and scented powder by other parade characters. Witches yell at observers, bears show off their strength and chimney sweeps climb houses.
Many German towns celebrate carnival but Cologne’s celebrations attract many thousands, particularly on Rose Monday, when 70 floats parade down the river Rhine. Street parties, a family parade on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday and masked balls, all bring this city to life.
The island of Madeira hosts Portugal’s most extravagant Mardi Gras celebrations and numerous costumed parades. Festa dos Compadres in Santana really gets the party started, with giant figures roaming the streets, before being ‘judged’ and burned. Meanwhile, Funchal sees thousands of people watching its Allegorical and Trapalhão parades. Some observers are cruise trip travellers – including those benefiting from the cruise cover extension available to Europesure’s standard single trip or annual multi-trip travel insurance policies.
New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama, USA
Bourbon Street and the French Quarter of New Orleans both rock during Mardi Gras, with every jazz venue more vibrant than usual and parade floats filling the streets. The unofficial motto of Mardi Gras here is “let the good times roll” and participating includes flinging beads from balconies and floats. Watch out for those! In Mobile, Alabama, it’s not just beads thrown but also moon pies – cookies filled with soft and sweet marshmallows. Be prepared to duck!
Trinidad and Tobago
Here, carnival involves the crowning of a Calypso Monarch, a steel drum competition and masqueraded bands parading. On the Monday participants dress in half-costume but on Fat Tuesday the full regalia comes out, along with copious amounts of body paint!
Remember the ‘get ready to duck’ rule, as Goa’s vibrant celebrations and four days of feasts include the lobbing of colour bombs, issued with the accompaniment of the words, ‘bura na maano’ (no offence). None taken, usually, but if the dye should lead to a medical issue, it pays to have had the foresight to pack travel insurance.
In Nice, where carnival was first mentioned in 1294 but where the modern event began I 1873, your main risk might be a nasty dose of hay fever, with thousands of flowers thrown to crowds packed along the Promenade des Anglais, watching parade floats go by in the afternoons. Each float also carries 3000 flowers, designed to suit a different theme each year. Add to this a much-decorated King and Queen, giant heads, the lighting up of floats by night and a closing ceremony and it’s a spectacular event celebrating its 150th birthday in 2023.
Love an adorable snowman? Well Bonhomme de Neige, the mascot of the winter-themed Quebec carnival, should melt your heart. Snow sculptures and outdoor sport are other elements of this very different celebration and the wintery vibe has its own special appeal. If heading to Quebec during a ski holiday, don’t forget to pack our wintersports travel insurance.
Head to this 100-year-old celebration and you might understand how Shakira learned to shake her hips! Folklore, costumes, dancing, music and parades combine, with orchestras and bands competing for attention. So important is the number carnival celebration in the world that it has been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, by UNESCO.
San Martin Tilcajete, Oexaca, Mexico
Mythical animal creatures (alebrijes) are created out of intricately painted and carved wood bearing bright Zapotec designs rooted in cultural history. Meanwhile, locals, of all ages, transform themselves into Los Aceitados – the Oiled Ones – plastering motor oil over their bodies. A ringing noise accompanies the dancing of these weird-looking individuals, thanks to cowbells attached to their waists. This is very much a local celebration and there is little tourism infrastructure, so take extra care if venturing out to observe this event.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The mother of all Mardi Gras celebrations takes place in Rio, rightfully deemed the number one place to herald the start of Lent. A continuous samba rhythm can be heard across the city for days, with 200 samba schools involved in the entertainment, music and dancing of an event that began in 1723. The main parade takes place in the Sambadrome stadium but there are numerous street parties right across Rio and every opportunity to sample the Brigadeiros (sweet treats) and Pao de Queijo (grilled meat on sticks) that accompanies this occasion.
Take care of the tummy and do remember that crime is rife in Rio. Do not venture out wearing gold or flashy jewellery or watches. A gold necklace will be snatched in seconds and pickpockets are proficient at stealing from bags and pockets. Leave any valuables in the hotel safe and they will, hopefully, still be there when you get back to your room.
If you plan a trip to a carnival extravaganza somewhere in the world, make sure you buy travel insurance well in advance. Head to www.europesuretravelinsurance.com to see what suits you best.