Carnival: Saying Goodbye to Meat… and to Flesh

Fallen Humanity

Fallen Humanity

The celebration of carnival can be understood only in the context of the Judeo-Christian belief in the Human Fall and in the atonement that people need to make in order to return to their original status. Every year the Christians celebrate this belief through the period of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. Carnival is the celebration prior to the beginning of that 40-day period.

On Ash Wednesday, people cover themselves with ashes as a symbol of death. This is a symbolic fulfillment of the warning in Genesis, which said that our original parents were not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil—because if they did, they would surely die. By covering themselves with ashes on Ash Wednesday, Christian symbolically die.

40 Days of Gloom

After the symbolical death on Ash Wednesday, Christians suffer through a 40-day period. During these 40 days, Christians were not allowed to eat meat or to have sex. But it was also a time of hope: after 40 days, the Anointed One (Messiah) comes and guides people back to Paradise, and all is well again. And Carnival is the celebration of the time just prior the beginning of of the 40-day period of suffering, which is Lent.

Carne, Vale! — Good-Bye, Meat!

Ancient Romans

Ancient Romans

When the early Christians began to teach their beliefs to the ancient Romans, one can imagine that the Romans were less than thrilled about the practices of Lent: no eating meat, no sex, no dancing, no joyful singing, fasting, repentance, symbolic death. All that needed to last for 40 dreary days.

So, it wasn’t long before Christians got the idea that the day before Ash Wednesday was the last day in which they could gorge themselves in flesh (both in the sense of food and in the sense of sex). That Tuesday was the last day they could sing and cavort before the period of gloom and doom began.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Thus, the Tuesday before Lent became the day to say good-bye to meat, or flesh (Carne, vale!). When Christianity moved north to France, the French would call that celebration Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). It was the day before the meager times would begin—the 40-day period of fasting and no meat.

Meat Dinner

Meat Dinner

Soon people started celebrating carnival for three days instead of one. In Brazil, the Escolas de Samba (“samba schools”) prepare for carnival practically during the entire year—and carnival becomes a kind of “world cup of the flesh.” Carnival in Rio attracts visitors from all over the world for a celebration of the flesh—even people who have no intention of giving up meat during the 40-day period of Lent.

Carnival in Rio

Carnival in Rio

But for the great majority of people who enjoy the celebrations of carnival, this is a time to become like a child, to dance, sing, put on funny clothes, wear scanty clothes, and overall enjoy.

Thus, Americans leave their Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Germans leave the great fun of Fasching in Berlin, and Italians leave their carnevale in Venice–and they all flock to Rio de Janeiro for a good carnaval carioca.

It seem that Brazilians have redefined the art of fun living–and the world is paying attention.

Have a great Carnaval 2015!

I conclude with a link to the song Manhã de Carnaval from the Brazilian-French film Black Orpheus. The singer is the incomparable Elizete Cardoso.  

Paulo-Juarez Pereira
Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA — with temperatures well below zero
February 15, 2015 — Carnival 2015

Photo Credits

Photo: Fallen Humanity; Author: Charles Hoffman; Source: http://bit.ly/1Jhc3C3; Creative Commons License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Photo: Mardi Gras; Author: Bart Everson; Source: http://bit.ly/19k2Ys8; Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Photo: Ancient Romans; Author: Efendi; Source: http://bit.ly/1Cw3qdX; Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Photo: Meat Dinner; Author: Randal Sheppard; Source: http://bit.ly/1DulkBU; Creative Commons License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Photo: Carnival in Rio; Author: Funk Dooby; Source: http://bit.ly/1FOrOLu; Creative Commons License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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