From Rio de Janeiro to New Orleans to Trinidad and Tobago and even as far as Venice, Italy, “Carnival and Mardi Gras Festivities Around the World” are on full display online for all to view.
On the day of Mardi Gras, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) hosted a dynamic seminar and video experience that served as a fun journey around the world, showcasing the best traditions of Carnival and Mardi Gras.
With gratitude to AAFSW’s popular Program Chair, Sheila Switzer, my dearest colleague and most valued partner in the diplomatic community, to AAFSW president Emerita, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, a wonderful friend and great intellect and the program moderator, and to Lara Center, our new AAFSW President, for hosting such an amazing program—the first ever!
While many such celebrations were canceled this year due to the global crisis, this presentation offers a rare opportunity to visit several celebrations in one virtual trip, complete with their histories and cultural significance.
The journey begins in Brazil where Carnival coincides with Lent, a tradition dating back to its origin as a Catholic celebration. As Rafael Beltrami, an attache with the Embassy of Brazil in DC, explains that the music, participation, and costumes vary from one region of Brazil, highlighting four types of celebrations in his video presentation: Festival do Boi Bumba in the Amazon region; frevo, a type of dance from Pernambuco; trio elétrico musical floats in Bahia; and the large parades led by samba schools in Rio de Janeiro. The variety reflects Brazil’s diversity as well as the cohesion that carnival brings.
”Deixe os bons tempos rolarem” (“Let the Good times roll!” In Portuguese)
Next, we visit Trinidad and Tobago, believed to be where modern carnival celebrations originated. In full carnival costume, one of my dearest friends from DC’s distinguished diplomatic community, Joan Brammer, Public Affairs and Culture Attaché at The Embassy of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in Washington DC, explains that celebrating is universal in Trinidad: “Everybody takes part,” she says. “It’s in our DNA.” Celebrations in Trinidad are particularly known for colorful costumes and supremely exuberant celebrations, as demonstrated in a video presented by Joan–her passion and enthusiasm for her country, makes her one of the best diplomats in the city!
“We don’t hide the crazy. We parade it down the street. From bead to shining bead—let the good times roll!” (English is the official language in Trinidad & Tobago)
More than an ocean away, Venice boasts the oldest such celebration, dating back to the Renaissance. Unlike its South American and Caribbean counterparts, the celebration is innately European and focuses on intricate costumes with a particularly Italian flair, particularly baroque style masks. Whether colorful or more austere, individual outfits don’t have specific meanings, explains Anna Lane. “They are just from personal choice,” she says. These masks were spellbinding—absolutely gorgeous. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the models, their exquisite masks, and Anna, a beauty herself and the perfect spokesperson. Participants regularly enjoy Fritelle, a type of sweet fritter, and drink Spritz Venezia during the celebrations.
“Divertiamoci diamo inizio ai festeggiamenti!” (“Let the Good times roll” in Italian)
Mardi Gras makes up 2% of the GDP of New Orleans, Louisiana, showing its significance to Louisiana. The celebration of Mardi Gras stems from an event where festival-goers would parade a “fatted bull” through the city, the last time Catholics would eat meat before Lent. Mark Romig, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for New Orleans & Company, brought Mardi Gras to life for the panel through a slideshow of photos from past celebrations. While many of the activities may be “raucous,” Mardi Gras boasts a parade of ornate floats along with the color costumes that change every year. “It’s really a family affair,” Mark explains.
“Beads and bling. It’s a Mardi Gras thing!”
All programs that AAFSW offers are wonderful, but ”Festivals around the world” stands out—it was the first time various Carnivals were brought into our homes —the pandemic has brought heartache and sorrow, but it has also offered us an opportunity—thru zoom—to experience programs that we might not have ever seen.
“Laissez les bons temps rouler”—(“Let the good times roll” in French)
Jan Du Plain