The annual celebration of Carnival Day on February 26 is the ideal occasion to let loose and party. A carnival is the ideal occasion for a grand celebration with all the trimmings and thrills. One need only recall their carefree youth to conjure images of candy floss, amusing sideshows, and rides that give them butterflies. And if you have yet to experience the magic of the carnival, now is as good a time as any!
The background of Carnival Day
We adore the fact that the actual celebration of Carnival Day remains a mystery because it fits perfectly with what the carnival represents and what it is. For ages now, the carnival has always had an air of mystery and allure to it, probably because it provided certain thrills which could not be experienced elsewhere. Even in cultural studies, the word carnival’s disruptive and subversive connotations led to the development of the term carnivalesque. This concept was first presented in the middle of the twentieth century in the works of Russian linguist and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin. According to Bakhtin, the carnival is a space where societal norms can be subverted for a time, through the use of humour and a touch of chaos (sounds like a party!).
To discover the origins of Carnival Day, we must examine the history of the travelling carnival. As early as 98 A.D., the Roman historian Tacitus provided the first written account of Germanic tribes celebrating the end of winter with carnivals. We have no doubt that there were other people groups in the world who held similar celebrations. During the Middle Ages in Europe, agricultural shows and trade fairs began to emerge as commerce flourished and shaped the economic landscape. It is fair to say that these were the seeds for what eventually became the travelling carnival. Children’s rides powered by steam had been invented by 1861 but were not yet used at carnivals.
Not until the 1890s did the travelling carnival as we know it today emerge in the United States. The pivotal event was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. It featured the world’s first Ferris wheel and a Midway Plaisance, a mile-long strip of land with sideshows such as vaudeville and burlesque, mechanical rides, games of chance or luck, and curiosities. By 1937, there were three hundred carnival companies. In some instances, circuses may also be a part of a travelling carnival, but the appeal of the carnival was primarily due to the sideshows, which frequently offered the layman a glimpse of dangerous or ‘forbidden’ spectacles. Thus, the timeless appeal of the carnival, despite the constant evolution of society.
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CARNIVAL DAY ACTIVITIES
Attend a mobile carnival.
Whether one is rolling through your town or city, or you need to plan a quick trip, be sure to visit a real, live carnival and check it off your list. Carnivals are held both in the winter and summer, so there is always a vast selection to choose from. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to travel with the carnival as well.
Host your party
Carnivals are not always required to be held on a grand scale. Many carnivals are also held at the local level, such as school carnivals. The key is to adhere to the carnival’s theme, and then to come up with wild ideas for events and activities. We propose a waterslide, puppet shows or other inventive sideshows, and a multitude of outdoor games.
Indulge in ‘carnie’ art
Pun intended. If going out and being among the crowds is not your cup of tea, perhaps you can find your thrills in the world of art; literature and films featuring carnivals are filled with mystery and fantasy. Plan a carnival-themed movie night with your closest friends and stock up on carnival-approved foods such as corn dogs, popcorn, funnel cake, and other fried treats.
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CARNIVAL DAY DATES