Carnival 2023 is almost upon us. The doughnuts, music, dancing and masks are ready to fill European cities with fun and excitement, but do you know about the origins of these winter festivities? This article will tell you about the birth of February’s most hotly anticipated event and I’ll be recommending the best European destinations for celebrating Carnival 2023.
The origins of Carnival
Carnival (a term that is thought to have derived from the Latin carnem levare, meaning “removing meat”) is a celebration with its roots in Christian tradition and closely linked to Lent, the period of abstinence and fasting before Easter.
Whilst associated with Christianity, the festivities also draw from paganism, namely from Dionysia and Saturnalia, which for the Greeks and Romans represented times of celebration, chaos and fun, which then, over the course of the centuries, were enriched by masks and costumes.
Where to celebrate Carnival 2023: the best destinations in Europe
This year, Easter Sunday falls on 9 April, meaning that Carnival 2023 celebrations will culminate between 16 and 21 February, Fat Thursday and Shrove Tuesday respectively.
But in some cities, Carnival doesn’t just last a couple of days; it’s a truly unmissable event, steeped in tradition, which brings almost the whole of February alive. Do you want to find out where? If you’re looking for ideas, here are the best destinations for celebrating Carnival 2023.
Carnival 2023 in Venice: a centuries-old tradition
Carnival 2023 will be bringing the streets of Venice alive from 4 to 21 February: Eighteen days of fun, music, dancing and masks between the canals and the “campi”, as the city’s squares are called.
This is not only one of the most awaited events of the year, but also a centuries-old tradition that unofficially dates back to 943 and officially to 1296, when, for the first time, an edict from the city known as La Serenissima officially declared the day before Lent a public holiday. This gave way to the celebrations we enjoy today, over 700 years later, which last for almost the whole of February.
If you decide to fly to Venice for Carnival 2023, be sure not to miss the three iconic events of this festival.
The first is the Corteo Acqueo, a water procession where men and women in traditional Venetian dress parade along the Grand Canal to open the Carnival. The second is the Festa delle Marie (Feast of the Marys), a tradition that also appears to date back to 943, featuring 12 Venetian girls, in typical dress, who walk in a procession to St Mark’s Square, where the most beautiful is crowned. The third, and perhaps the most internationally renowned, is the Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel), where a masked girl, usually last year’s winner of the Festa delle Marie, descends from the bell tower of St Mark’s; a truly moving moment, to be experienced as you look up to the sky.
For all the latest updates on the 2023 Carnival of Venice, you can visit the official website.
The 2023 Carnival in Nice: with allegorical floats and flower battles for 150 years
Along with Venice, Nice Carnival is one of the most famous in Europe, as well as the largest and most highly anticipated in France, and this year it will be taking place from 10 to 26 February.
Held for certain since 1294, Nice Carnival is now known for its rich and vibrant procession of allegorical floats. The tradition dates back to 1882, when Alexis Mossa and his son Gustav-Adolf Mossa, two local artists, created the first float for “His Majesty’s Carnival”.
The official date of the first event, however, is 1873, when the Nice citizen Andriot Saëtone founded the “Festival Committee”, responsible for organising the celebrations. This means that the 2023 Nice Carnival will be doubly important, as this year will be its 150th anniversary. Another good reason for flying to the French Riviera, don’t you think?
There are so many events to experience first-hand, from parades to performances organised between the Promenade des Anglais and Place Masséna (you can find them on the official website). But if you choose Nice as your next destination, don’t miss the Battle of Flowers, which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday, when there’s a procession of floats adorned with brightly coloured floral arrangements, and petals and flowers are thrown into the crowd.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife: a homage to diversity and a record-breaking Carnival
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, is twinned with Rio de Janeiro and not by chance, as one of the liveliest carnivals in Europe takes place here, and this year it will bring the city to life from 15 to 26 February 2023.
Dating back to the 17th century and initially celebrated with an exchange of clothing — the men dressed as women and vice versa —, Tenerife Carnival has always been a homage to diversity, to bending the rules and pushing the boundaries, and it’s now an unmissable event for the LGBTQ+ community as well as for anyone excited about this festival who wants to enjoy, at least once in their life, an experience as surreal as it is thrilling.
Every year the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife has a different theme and for 2023 it will be “New York, the city that never sleeps”, turning the event into a new opportunity to push boundaries, this time geographical.
Here’s an interesting thing: did you know that Tenerife Carnival set a Guinness World Record in 1987? This was for the performance by Cuban singer Celia Cruz, accompanied for the occasion by the music of the orchestra Billo’s Caracas Boys, which succeeded in attracting over 250,000 spectators into one square: a truly amazing feat which has yet to be beaten.
2023 Carnival in Cadiz: the most irreverent masked event in Europe
We’re staying in Spain, but this time we’re flying to Andalusia, towards Cadiz (with Volotea you can land nearby in the charming city of Seville), to visit one of the most irreverent and subversive Carnivals in Europe. The event, which this year will be held from 16 to 26 February, has in fact always been known for its irony, plays on words, sarcasm and its (not overly excessive) friendly mockery of the most burning issues of the day.
The event dates back to 1600 and is linked to the Ligurian communities, particularly the Genoese, who moved here after the Ottoman defeat.
In Cadiz, instead of the masks typical of the European Carnivals, you’ll see people parading with painted faces and dressed in controversial costumes, and you can attend performances by renowned satirical groups such as comparsas, chirigotas and coros.
The first sing in particular about politics and current affairs, but in provocative tones; the second address the same issues, but in a humorous way; the third, on the other hand, play lutes and guitars to the Carnival Tango beat, switching between a comical repertoire and a more serious one. All of them, in the end, compete with one another in the Gran Teatro Falla, where the annual contest is held and also broadcast on local television channels.
The programme for the 2023 Cadiz Carnival can be found on the website of the local tourist board.
Now that you’ve heard about some of the most intriguing Carnivals in Europe, all you need to do is pick your destination and book your flight. Have a great trip!