While Carnaval festivities at lakeside lack the caché of big time celebrations in places like Rio de Janiero, New Orleans and Venice, you can be sure that we are in for plenty of high-spirited revelry that will crank up Friday, February 22 and run unabated until Shrove Tuesday, March 5.
Derived from Latin, the word Carnaval translates into “farewell to flesh,” referring to the raucous festivity that precedes six weeks of Lenten fasting and penitence. English speakers are more familiar with the term Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
Celebrations adopted in Roman Catholics cultures are rooted in pagan rituals practiced by the Greeks and Romans. Spanish missionaries brought Carnaval to Mexico during the spiritual conquest of the western hemisphere.
Mexico’s most extravagant Mardi Gras blowouts take place in port cities. While each locale adheres to distinctive customs, the common threads include rollicking music and dance parties, costume parades, beauty pageants and prodigious indulgence in pleasures of the flesh. Most start off with the torching or burial of a symbolic figure representing abandonment of mal humor (bad humor) and the crowning of a madcap male monarch who rules over the mayhem. Mock battles employing flowers, confetti, glitter or baking flour as harmless weaponry often play into the unbridled merriment.
Major Carnaval destinations along the Gulf and Caribbean coasts are Veracruz, Campeche, Merida, and Cozumel. On the Pacific side, the resort town in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, is ranked third worldwide in terms of attendance. Throngs of more than 300,000 revelers congregate there each year to cut loose during the 11-day series of happenings highlighted by the region’s signature tambora style banda music.
Chapala and Ajijic each have their own brands of Carnaval fervor, with similarities to many of the traditions followed elsewhere.
The Entierro de Mal Humor, set for February 22, kick starts Chapala’s non-stop two week party. An after dark parade draws a big crowd that shimmies along the main avenue behind a funeral cortege hoisting a coffin filled with somber spirits that will be carried to the fairgrounds at the Cristiania Park to be set aflame and left in ashes. This sacrificial act will be followed by the coronation of the Rey Feo (Ugly King) and frenzied dancing well into the night.
Carnaval Chapala pretty much revolves around live musical events of varied types, with banda music being the genre of choice. Hundreds cram into the concert area to shake and sing along with familiar repertoires. This year’s program closes out March 5 with an all-night bash headlined by the Arrolladora Banda el Limón and popular vocalist Chuy Lizarraga and his Tierra Sinaloense backup band. Search those names on You Tube to get a sense of their musical styles.
Ajijic festivities zero in on the jaripeos held at the village bullring. Crowds gather there to swill down booze, dance in the stands to banda tunes and watch dare-devils foolishly risk their lives on the backs of bucking toros.
The village invariably outdoes the municipal seat with its wild and whacky Mardi Gras parade that must been seen to be believed. But that’s another story altogether.\