Carnaval marks a period of festivity prior to the beginning of Lent. Lent was, and for some still is, a 40-day period of solemnity and fasting with the removal of meat from the diet being a key feature. You can see the word carne (meat) in Carnaval; traditionally, this was the last chance to eat meat before the Lenten fast. Today, Carnaval often resembles a lively, multi-day party.

Falling in either February or March, Carnaval is typically celebrated during the five days that precede Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In some countries, Carnaval lasts longer, overlapping other local celebrations. In many regions, traditions such as throwing water and eggs can start over a month before the actual holiday. The planning for the next year’s parades, parties, and dance groups often starts as soon as the current Carnaval ends!

Vocabulario para celebrar
los bailarines dancers
la banda musical band
Carnaval Carnival
los cascarones confetti-filled eggs
el disfraz costume
las máscaras masks

Describe a costume you would design for Carnaval. What images inspired you?

Disfraces Elaborate costumes are central to the Carnaval celebration. This costume, entitled “África soy yo,” appeared in Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands.




Carnaval Revelers dance in Encarnación, site of the largest celebration in Paraguay.




Cascarones Breaking cascarones on the heads of friends and other party-goers is a Carnaval tradition. The sprinkling of confetti from these hollowed-out eggs is said to bring good luck, as seen here in Mazatlán.


Máscaras are a Carnaval tradition dating back to medieval Spain. This masked dancer is from the parade in Oruro, where some 40,000 folkloric dancers and musicians participate.




Bailarines folklóricos Dancers from the Mestizaje dance group perform in Barranquilla. The Colombian government proclaimed this city’s Carnaval celebration, which combines indigenous, African, and European traditions, a National Cultural Heritage. UNESCO declared it a “Masterpiece” for its cultural uniqueness.

  1.   The ways in which Carnaval is celebrated in the Spanish-speaking world differ depending on the region. Why do you think the celebrations have evolved differently?
  2.   Compare the traditions of Carnaval to any holiday that you celebrate. Which one(s) are similar? How are they similar?