While Carnaval celebrations in Mexico lack the global name recognition of places like Rio de Janiero, New Orelans and Venice, high-spirited revelry will be unleashed nationwide from this weekend, coming to a crescendo on Shrove Tuesday, February 13.
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 Catholic 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.
The country’s biggest and best known Mardi Gras festivities take place in port cities. While each place is noted for distinctive customs, the common threads include rollicking music and dance parties, costume parades, beauty pageants and prodigious consumption of food and drink. Most start with the torching or burial of a symbolic figure representing abandonment of mal humor (bad humor) and the crowning 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.
Mazatlán, the Pacific coast resort town in 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.
Major Carnaval destinations on and near the Gulf and Caribbean coasts are Veracruz, Campeche, Merida, and Cozumel. Tropical beats mark the sensuous salsa, mambo, cumbia and danzón dance styles.
The capital city of Tlaxcala; Tepoztlan, Morelos; Huejotzingo, Puebla; and San Juan Chamula, Chiapas are among the inland locations that stand out for unique customs.
Along with Chapala and Ajijic, Carnaval hot spots in Jalisco include towns of Autlán, Ameca, Amatitán, Barra de Navidad, Etzatlan, Jalostotitlan, Tecolotlan and Sayula.