Farewell to the flesh
Where were you Tuesday, February 24? With any luck you were fortunate enough to be one of the hundreds of millions revelers worldwide celebrating the cathartic last day of Carnival in true pagan fashion, with copious amounts of food, wine and dancing, while bidding 'farewell to the flesh'.
As the photos here can attest, Carnival is 'observed' – just isn't the right word, is it – in idiosyncratic ways; a truly global phenomenon expressed with undeniably local flavors. While the dates, costumes and dances may change from place to place, the celebrations share the same religious roots.
Apology accepted for the inconsistencies. Can't be easy to achieve the consensus of nearly one billion human beings regarding when the party begins and ends! Typically – if there is such a thing – Carnival crests to a climax during the last the week before Lent and ending on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday.
Lent's austere forty days of prayer, penance and fasting is meant to prepare the devout for Catholicism's most important day, Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The ancients knew there was no better way to prepare for the preparation with a proper ole-fashion get down. Break out the good stuff and get grillin' because by Wednesday, its all got to go. Remember, this is way before refrigeration, so it's either use it or lose it, it is not going to taste pleasant in forty days.
The date those forty days begin, and therefore when Carnival ends, depends in turn by the date of Easter. Figuring that out requires the use of ancient algorithms and it helps to have an advanced degree in history and astrology. (If you really want a head scratching challenge, try sorting through an explanation of computus for some light afternoon reading.)
Us normal folk just need to know that Easter always falls on a Sunday between late March and late April. And that whether its samba in Brazil, the Zulu parade in New Orleans or a masquerade ball in Venice, a good time awaits the little Bacchus in all of us. A party so fundamentally important in some societies that rest of the year is practically spent on that one special week. The party of parties. What dreams are made of, and songs are written about.
Not that the randomly-selected carnival-goer in the street gives much thought to any of this. And we don't recommend an intellectual discussion of this sort if one should find themself one Fat Tuesday on Bourbon Street or the Sambadrome with a Hurricane or Caipirinha in hand. Just go with it, our friend. The true wisdom and beauty of carnival lay not in observation, but participation. Shake a leg and tell us all about it later. AER
Images: Mauricio Lima (AFP/Getty Images), Natacha Pisarenko and Fernando Vergara (AP Photo), Reuters, Chris Bickford (New York Times)