Carnival: What is its significance?
Many people don't understand what Caribbean Carnival celebrations are all about. They see people "wining" in the streets, "jumping" and "getting on bad" to soca music and think that this is all it's about. Even some masqueraders never take time to think about what Carnival really signifies. They think it's simply a time to party, consume alcohol and have fun. A time to over-indulge in sex.
Carnival has been criticized by many church going, religious/Christian people as well. They view it as something ungodly. They see it as something of the flesh and Satanic in nature. They often quote a text from the Bible which in their mind implies that God hates revelry. This text is used to support their argument of Carnival being of the devil.
"Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Galatians 5.21
Even on this website, someone raised the point of Carnival being evil and that too much money was being spent on it. There is an entire argument on this.
From a spiritual (not religious) standpoint, I have a different take on this. Carnival in and of itself is not evil. No. God will not punish you for taking part in a Carnival activity, neither will I burn in hell for writing this article. The God I know wouldn't do that. The Almighty's nature is one of goodness. Mankind has made life to be too much about Dos and Don'ts. Love is really what we should be about and not judgement.
Before you take part in another Caribbean carnival activity understand the significance of what you're doing. Carnival critics as well, read on. ;-)
For instance, what are the origins of Carnival? Hundreds of years ago, Catholics in Italy began celebrating Carnival before Lent. Since Lent is a period where Catholics abstained from meat, the Italians called it "Carnevale" which means "to put away the meat". Carnival became very popular in Italy and spread to other Catholic countries in Europe including France, Spain and Portugal. As these European countries colonized the islands of the Caribbean they brought with them the celebration of Carnival.
A few hundreds of years after the Europeans began coming to the Caribbean, the slave trade was already well established. African slaves had a great influence on carnival as it were.
The Africans already had their own traditions of parading and moving in circles through villages in costumes and masks. This was thought to be a means of healing, appeasing dead relatives and bringing good fortune. As part of their tradition they would create sculptures, masks and costumes made of bones, beads, grass, fabric, shells and so on. This had a very spiritual basis; each object was thought to send out a certain energy. For instance, feathers were a symbol of overcoming the challenges of life including pains, illnesses and heartbreaks. Feathers were a symbol of spiritual growth. Masking was very meaningful since masks were a big part of rituals for the dead. All of these customs and traditions influenced the Caribbean Carnival traditions we know today.
Even the dances, drumming patterns and music traditions we partake in are derived from Africa and have great spiritual significance. Stilt dancers made their way into Carnival from way back then when the Africans arrived.
Carnival was a great way for the slaves to express themselves. It was a means of escape from the hardship of slave labor. It helped them identify with each other and celebrate their African customs and culture. These were people with no freedom and carnival meant a lot.
So here we see how symbolic and spiritual the Caribbean Carnival is. It is not simply a time to jump and wine and engage in worldly pleasure as some believe. This celebration is very deep.
No wonder the Caribbean Carnival is so popular all over the world. Clearly, "carnival will never die". You will find one in all the countries of the Caribbean as well as wherever there is a Caribbean community. The most popular ones outside of the Caribbean are Miami Carnival, Labor Day in New York, Caribana in Canada and Nottinghill Carnival in London.
In Canada, you will find West Indian Carnival celebrations in Ottawa (in Ontario), Montreal (in Quebec), Toronto (in Ontario), Hamilton, Calgary (in Alberta) and Edmonton, Alberta.
In the United Kingdom you will find celebrations in Birmingham, Isle of Wight, Leicester, London, Leeds, Bristol and Preston.
In the United States of America you can find celebrations in Atlanta, GA, Baltimore, MD, Boston, MA, Cambridge, MA, Chicago, IL, Austin, TX, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Minneapolis, MN, New Orleans, LA, New York, NY, Orlando, FL, Seattle, WA, Tacoma, WA, Norfolk, VA, Washington DC and Charleston, SC.
There's a Caribbean Carnival in Berlin, Germany as well, every year in the month of May.
No matter what time of the year, you will find a carnival taking place in some part of the world.
Carnival is a great tool that can be used to foster unity. It can bring nations and cultures together under one umbrella. It's a time for people to put aside all differences and celebrate life. During carnival, we put the pressures of life behind us and focus on the positives, being grateful for the many blessings that the Almighty has bestowed upon us.
Do you have any opinions, story or developments on anything to do with Carnival in the Caribbean that you'd like to share? Share your thoughts here!
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
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