During England, in most of the seaside towns and in many inland cities too, the hot summer months of June, July and August would be the signal for carnival time. England might not be able to match all of the riotous splendor of Rio or Jamaica, but what English country and seaside carnivals lack in all that jazz and colour they more than make up for in warmth and excitement.
A carnival is a public festival or occasion characterized by street processions, lots of dressing up in fancy and colourful costumes and made merry with plenty of dancing and singing. The origins of these jolly celebrations return in the pagan mists of history and appear to be first recorded in ancient Greece when the parties were all in honor of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Wildlife Removal Port St Lucie
Watch the Disney cartoon in Fantasia where a portly merry-maker and his donkey practically drown in the flowing grape juice, all to the music of Beethoven’s joyous Pastoral Symphony and you start to get the picture.
The Romans enjoyed the idea so much that when they picked up the baton of progressing world culture they turned the entire thing into their own Bacchanalia. It was still a heathen party, dedicated today to Bacchus their god of drink and vegetation. And it remained the ideal excuse to get a rip-roaring booze up.
At the exact same time the ruling elite were shrewd enough to realize that the great number of slaves and the lower masses needed an occasional means to let off steam and go crazy without actually blowing into a full scale rebellion. So a couple of refinements were added, such as allowing people to dress up, wear masks to escape recognition and even play at role reversal. For the duration of the festival that the general populace could ape their betters and eliminate it. Anything and everything was tolerated.
The Bacchanalia became the Saturnalia, which literally means the excess of the senses. Nothing was sacred and nothing was prohibited, and at the end of it we could only assume that the revellers were exhausted and the hangovers so enormous that they all went meekly back to being slaves .
Eventually the old gods were pushed into the periphery of society as Christianity took hold and became the established religion of the Holy Roman Empire. The Saturnalia could no longer be tolerated simply as a drunken orgy and so it had to be altered and changed again. The lower orders still needed an annual relaxing of the rules to celebrate and so the more acceptable aspects like the masked play acting, the feasting and parades and the street party atmosphere were kept. They were incorporated instead to the new Christian festival of Lent.
In the Christian Church Lent is the penitential preparation of the weeks leading up to Easter, and also an imitation of Christ drifting and fasting in the wilderness. It must have taken quite a feat of imagination to turn a quick into a festival, but naturally there is both a start and an end to a period of fasting, and can be the cause for casting aside all of the restraints.
The Tuesday before the fasting started was known as Fat Tuesday, it was the final chance to stuff yourself and over-indulge in food and drink before the long fast began. The European settlers who colonized the Americas took the word with them. Hence those fantastic carnivals in Rio, Jamaica and Trinidad all now infused with the warmth and colours as well as the rhythmic drum beats of tropical Africa.
It’s all come full circle with the Notting Hill Carnival in London, an exotic taste of the Caribbean which could attract a million people.
Until the 19th century carnival celebrations in England were held on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the interval when Lent traditionally began. However, as the country has become more secular the true basis of carnival has become separated from its Christian links. It seems that February is too cold and the weather too inclement. The dates have moved ahead to those warmer months of the year once we can really enjoy them.
Last year, during the months of July and August at the East Anglia corner of England there were carnivals in Newmarket, Wells, Heacham, Sheringham, Felixstowe, Lavenham, Beccles, Aldeburgh and Cromer. Plus there were a number of fairs, festivals and designated family fun days which were carnivals in all but the title. In the lakes and broads of England the carnival has become a waterborne regatta.
That title seemed to include all of it, plus it had been advertised as having a Medieval Theme and you can’t imagine a more appropriate background for the middle ages than this enchanting old wool town.
It’s a town of overhanging white and black timbers and pastel pretty colour washes where more than 300 of these pantomime background structures are listed buildings. The more elaborate were retailer’s houses or guildhalls and Lavenham was one of the most prosperous towns in East Anglia.
The carnival parade started in the mediaeval market square in front of the most magnificent Tudor building of all of them, the ancient black and white Holy Trinity Guildhall. A group of ladies in Tudor costumes entertained the crowds with a screen of mediaeval dancing, before lining up behind the Glen Morrison Pipe and Drum band for the procession to the carnival showground.
I had picked my camera station where they turned from the top of Church Street to Bridge End Road on the last lap up to the showground. With kilts swirling and the pipes skirling the Highlanders made a splendid picture as they turned facing the towering flint tower of the magnificent Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
The procession turned to the crowded showground and then paraded around the middle ring. Eventually there was judging and the presenting of the prizes for the best conceived costumes. The Pipe and Drum Band strutted their stuff again, marching to the glorious tunes of Scotland the Brave and other Highland classics.
The programme of events got back to its mediaeval theme with a display of Falconry, the gorgeous predatory birds wheeling and flashing over the up turned faces of the watching crowds. Falcons are used for hunting since the middle ages and have been trained to always return to their handler’s well protected wrist.
There was a costumed side saddle display, with elegant ladies and gentlemen in period dress putting their gloss dressed horses through their prancing paces, an equestrian event being an almost mandatory presentation at any truly English nation collecting. There was also a parade of heritage cattle and sheep, the latter particularly appropriate since the so-called Golden Fleece had always been the prime source of wealth during Lavenham’s heritage golden era.
To bring the mood closer to the modern day there was also a fantastic collection of classic automobiles on parade from the Lavenham Press Rare Breeds Motor Show. Around 450 of those glorious vintage vehicles were constructed, all polished and restored to perfection, their chrome glass and paintwork gleaming in sunlight. Each one made a slow turn around the parade ground and the series seemed to roll on for ever.
There was a fun fair for the children, trade stalls to the mums, side shows and entertainment along with a tea tent and bar. The bar was well populated but this wasn’t any Dionysian orgy. Ale seemed more preferable to wine and its consumption was cheerful and commanded. The mood was relaxed and happy with everyone enjoying the hot August sunshine. It was the ideal bank holiday weekend.
The spirit of carnival has lost some of its wild side in its refinement down the centuries, but what remains is well worth pursuing. It’s a fantastic family day out with something for everybody. This year they’ll do it again, at Lavenham and all those other cities and villages where carnival has become an annual event.
Watch the local media for the times and the dates. There’s guaranteed to be a carnival someplace near where you go in England. Go along and support it, have fun, soak up the atmosphere and the summer sunshine.
In the words of the song,”Come to the Carnival.”