Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Saturday 16 January |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Giuseppe Antonio Tovini
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Do you know the literal, Catholic meaning of the word “carnival”?

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Zelda Caldwell - published on 02/12/18

The Lenten roots of a familiar English word

When you hear the word “carnival” the first thing that comes to mind might be a traveling fair, with rides and games and cotton candy.

It’s such a familiar word that we might be surprised to learn that “carnival” refers to the beginning of Lent, a time when Christians traditionally exercise self-denial, such as abstinence from meat, in preparation for Easter.

According to a post at the Visual Thesaurus, the words date back to a northern Italian dialect from the 12th century that used the words carnelevale or carnelevare, which came from the Latin phrase carnem levare or “the taking away of meat.”

In other words – carnival is a time to feast and be merry, for tomorrow there will be no meat.

The traveling carnival was popularized in the United States after the success of the 1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893, which featured automated rides, animal side shows and the first Ferris-Wheel. Posters advertised the fair’s “Grand Columbian Carnival,” a name inspired by the European festivals marking the beginning of  Lent, and chosen to fit the fair’s theme: the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America. It stuck, and the “carnival” continues to be used to describe these movable amusement parks.

Of course, the word “carnival” is still used in the Americas in its traditional Lenten sense at Rio’s Carnival and the carnival at New Orlean’s Mardi Gras celebrations, both of which occur on the day before Lent. Whether the millions who attend these bacchanals are there to say “farewell to meat” is, one could safely say, probably unlikely.

Tags:
Devotions and Feasts
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on Y...
FORGIVING COUPLE
Bret Thoman, OFS
An exorcist teaches 4 steps to forgive
Philip Kosloski
What is the Holy Cloak of St. Joseph?
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Why God loves ordinary stuff: Pope Francis' r...
POPE FRANCIS; Ash Wednesday
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Vatican: Imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday...
D'CRUZ FAMILY
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the family of 12 siblings with a very sp...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.