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communal celebration, especially the religious celebration in Catholic countries that takes place just before LentLent
[Old Eng. lencten,=spring], Latin Quadragesima (meaning 40; thus the 40 days of Lent). In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.
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. Since early times carnivals have been accompanied by parades, masquerades, pageants, and other forms of revelry that had their origins in pre-Christian pagan rites, particularly fertility rites that were connected with the coming of spring and the rebirth of vegetation. One of the first recorded instances of an annual spring festival is the festival of Osiris in Egypt; it commemorated the renewal of life brought about by the yearly flooding of the Nile. In Athens, during the 6th cent. B.C., a yearly celebration in honor of the god Dionysus was the first recorded instance of the use of a float. It was during the Roman Empire that carnivals reached an unparalleled peak of civil disorder and licentiousness. The major Roman carnivals were the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the Lupercalia. In Europe the tradition of spring fertility celebrations persisted well into Christian times, where carnivals reached their peak during the 14th and 15th cent. Because carnivals are deeply rooted in pagan superstitions and the folklore of Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was unable to stamp them out and finally accepted many of them as part of church activity. The immediate consequence of church influence may be seen in the medieval Feast of Fools, which included a mock Mass and a blasphemous impersonation of church officials. Eventually, however, the power of the church made itself felt, and the carnival was stripped of its most offending elements. The church succeeded in dominating the activities of the carnivals, and eventually they became directly related to the coming of Lent. The major celebrations are generally on Shrove Tuesday (see Mardi GrasMardi Gras
, last day before the fasting season of Lent. It is the French name for Shrove Tuesday. Literally translated, the term means "fat Tuesday" and was so called because it represented the last opportunity for merrymaking and excessive indulgence in food and drink before
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); however, in Germany the carnival season, or Fasching, begins on the Epiphany (Jan. 6) in Bavaria and on Nov. 11 in the Rhineland. In recent times, the term carnival has also been loosely applied to include local festivals, traveling circuses, bazaars, and other celebrations of a joyous nature, regardless of their purpose or their season.
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historical and continuing forms of social ritual which allow temporary reversals of the social order in which social rules (e.g. sexual mores) are transgressed and mockery made of the rich and powerful. See also LIMINALITY, BAKHTIN, ROLE REVERSAL.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


Cheese Week, Mardi Gras, Maslenitsa, Packzi Day,
Pancake Day, Shrovetide

Carnival is a holiday that developed in response to a religious observance, namely the six-week season of Lent. In the Middle Ages Christians endured many trying religious disciplines during Lent. As a result they celebrated the week before Lent began, enjoying one last fling before beginning these hardships.

Carnival celebrations last from several days to over a week and take place in early spring. Many festivals begin in earnest on the Saturday or Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. The Thursday before Ash Wednesday, sometimes called "Fat Thursday," also once served as a traditional starting date for Carnival. The date of Carnival changes from year to year, as its timing depends on that of Easter (see also Easter, Date of). The festival reaches its peak on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. In some countries people call this day "Fat Tuesday." Indeed Carnival began as a means of using up rich foods and indulging in lively behavior before the start of Lent with its accompanying fast and other religious disciplines.

Symbols and Customs

Although Carnival celebrations vary from country to country and region to region, they usually include some or all of the following customs and symbols. Most Carnivals offer participants various opportunities to take to the streets in costumes or masks. As people temporarily take on the identity represented by the costume or mask, they engage in a spontaneous kind of play-acting with other costumed participants and onlookers. The fool or clown plays an important role in many Carnival festivals and symbolizes the topsy-turvy nature of the holiday. Many celebrations also feature a mock king and queen, who rule over the kingdom of Carnival during the few days of its duration. Some festivals schedule a symbolic funeral at the end of the week's festivities. A dummy, or some insignificant item, such as a sardine, is "killed" and buried, and this burial represents the death and laying to rest of Carnival for another year. Often people throw things at one another during Carnival celebrations, whether it be water, flowers, candy, oranges, or party favors, such as confetti or beads. Finally, Carnival customs often encourage people to eat and drink heartily, and may also include some loosening of the usual rules of social conduct.

Origins of the Word "Carnival"

Researchers disagree about the roots of the word "Carnival." Some say it comes from the Latin phrase caro levare, which means to lift or remove meat. During the Middle Ages this phrase became carne levare, and eventually, carne vale. It passed into English as "Carnival." In some of the Romance languages that evolved from Latin, the word took on a similar form. In Spanish it's carnaval, in Italian carnavale, and in Portuguese carnaval. The French call it Mardi Gras, which means "Fat Tuesday." Other researchers have drawn different conclusions about the origin of the word Carnival. They say it comes from carrus navalis, a boat-shaped cart drawn through the city streets during the ancient Roman winter festival of Saturnalia. Masked and costumed men and women rode in the cart, singing coarse songs.


Where did Carnival come from? Most researchers agree that it began as a celebration of the last few days before the beginning of Lent. During the Middle Ages, people observed Lent by fasting, refraining from marital relations, reflecting mournfully on their shortcomings, and in some cases performing penance for serious misdeeds (for more on penance, see Repentance; see also Sin). No marriages could be performed during this somber time. Therefore, people celebrated the week before they began this strict regimen by indulging in rich foods, gaiety, and outrageous behavior, in other words, by enjoying all that was soon to be forbidden.

While Carnival as we know it today began in Europe in the Middle Ages, some writers believe that its origins lie in various celebrations that took place in the ancient Mediterranean world. They point to a variety of festivals observed in ancient times which resemble Carnival in certain ways. For example, during Saturnalia people feasted, drank, and reveled in the streets, often in costume. Moreover, social rank temporarily disappeared, as those of high rank served those of low rank, slaves enjoyed a temporary holiday, and people engaged in madcap behavior of all kinds.

The Babylonian and Mesopotamian New Year festivals, rowdy celebrations that took place in mid-spring, also featured street masquerades (for more on a related modern festival, see No Ruz). In biblical times the Jewish people created a spring holiday called Purim. During this holiday, still celebrated today, people hid their identities behind masks, men and women wore each other's clothing, and people engaged in wild behavior normally considered inappropriate. Another Roman holiday, Lupercalia, which took place in early spring, offered certain young men an opportunity to dress in animal skins and run wild through the streets, flailing whips at young women who crossed their path. According to Roman folk belief, the strokes of these whips bestowed fertility. Finally, Roman devotees of the goddess Cybele observed a joyous spring festival called Hilaria.

Other writers disagree with the argument that Carnival evolved from these ancient celebrations. They point out that, with the exclusion of Purim, the last of these ancient festivals disappeared about five hundred years before 965 A.D., when the first mention of European Carnival celebrations appears in an historical document. This fact leads this group of researchers to conclude that, although Carnival shares some customs with ancient festivals, medieval Europeans invented the observance on their own as a means of letting off steam before beginning the hardships of Lent.

Medieval and Renaissance Carnivals

The earliest mentions of European Carnival celebrations in historical documents call it carnelevare, literally "lift up meat" or "take away meat." Indeed, judging by these documents, eating meat seems to be the primary custom connected with the season. Carnival rooted itself in the European folk calendar between the years 1000 and 1300 with celebrations focused around feasting in preparation for the fasting soon to come.

The full range of customs that came to characterize European Carnival celebrations developed in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During these centuries, which coincided with a period of social and intellectual change that historians have dubbed the Renaissance, people adopted new ways of looking at the world. These new perspectives included humanism, a philosophy that emphasized the need to place human interests above other concerns, and naturalism, a doctrine that denied the existence of anything beyond the natural world. These philosophies influenced Carnival celebrations by increasing the value people placed on lighthearted foolishness as a means of counterbalancing the artificial social demands and seriousness required of people in everyday life. During this era Carnival celebrations came to include a greater emphasis on clowns, fools, and social satire, that is, making fun of society and its rules. The famous Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel (c.1525-1530 to 1569) left us a visual description of the Carnival celebrations of this era in his 1559 painting entitled "The Battle of Carnival and Lent." By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries those populations in which Carnival had taken root observed the festive season with masquerades, rich foods, drink, and rowdy revelry, especially antics that made fun of human folly or reversed social roles and ranks. Custom encouraged people to play pranks on one another, especially to throw water, flour, beans, dirt, or other substances at each other.

Criticism of Carnival

In the mid-fifteenth century Church authorities began to criticize Carnival celebrations for encouraging various kinds of excesses and creating public disorder. These criticisms often compared Carnival to pagan Roman festivals, suggesting that they indeed represented a survival of paganism and therefore should be suppressed. Active repression of Carnival celebrations began in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the year 1748 Pope Benedict XIV instituted a new custom in the Roman Catholic Church. This custom, called the "forty hours of Carnival," required Roman Catholic churches to hold special services on the evenings of the last three days of Carnival. Churches also left their doors open during these forty hours so that people could enter at any time to seek God's forgiveness for sins committed during the festival.

Carnival in the Modern Era

In the sixteenth century well-to-do Italians began to host costume balls in celebration of Carnival. This trend eventually spread to other parts of Europe, giving rise to a courtly Carnival. This same trend led to the introduction of elegant floats and magnificent parades, which encouraged a more civil and structured celebration.

In spite of official opposition and unease, Carnival celebrations proved impossible to stamp out in much of southern Europe. In northern Europe, however, Carnival celebrations faded away in some regions where they had once been popular. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people began to beautify the festival in response to new perspectives introduced by the Romantic movement, which tended to idealize old traditions and folkways. Over time many Europeans discarded some of the dirtier and more aggressive customs associated with the holiday, such as throwing water or oranges at one another, and replaced them with gentler gestures, like tossing confetti and flowers. It became fashionable in some cities to ride in flowercovered carriages, construct elaborate parade floats, and host elegant masked balls. As the parades grew in importance the nature of the festival changed. Previously everyone had participated in the masked hijinks. Now a division grew up between participants and spectators. In the past the spirit of Carnival swept over the entire town. Now it was concentrated along a specific parade route.

From Europe to the Americas

While some of these changes were felt in Spain and Portugal, their rural Carnival celebrations continued in the same rowdy spirit of ages past. People in the street threw oranges, lemons, eggs, flour, mud, straw, corncobs, beans or lupines (a type of flower) at one another, and people on balconies poured dirty water, glue or other obnoxious substances on the crowds below. Those in the streets battled one another with brooms or wooden spoons. Indoors people feasted on rich foods, to which they also treated guests. The wealthier homes might even toss cakes and pastries out windows to passersby. Colonists from these countries exported this version of Carnival, called Entrudo in Portuguese, and Antroido or Entroido in the Galician language of northwestern Spain, to Latin America.

Latin American Carnival celebrations blend European Carnival customs with African and Native American traditions of celebration. African-influenced music and dance, for example, play an especially important role in Carnival celebrations in Brazil and Trinidad (see also Brazil, Carnival in; Trinidad, Carnival in). Meanwhile the French succeeded in transferring their Carnival celebrations to certain of their colonies in North America, namely those centered around the cities of New Orleans and Mobile. These celebrations, known as Mardi Gras, survive today, a regional American expression of an old European seasonal festival.

For more on Carnival, see Brazil, Carnival in; Cheese Week; Germany, Carnival in; Italy, Carnival in; Mardi Gras; Maslenitsa; Paczki Day; Pancake Day; Shrovetide; Switzerland, Carnival in; and Trinidad, Carnival in

Further Reading

Blackburn, Bonnie, and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1999. Goldwasser, Maria Julia. "Carnival." In Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 3. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Holidays. Volume 1. Detroit, MI: UXL, 2000. Kinser, Samuel. Carnival American Style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Lau, Alfred. Carneval International. Bielefeld, Germany: Univers-Verlag, n.d. Orloff, Alexander. Carnival: Myth and Cult. Wörgl, Austria: Perlinger, 1981.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Carnival (Mardi Gras)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Dates vary, between Epiphany and Shrove Tuesday (Ash Wednesday Eve)
Where Celebrated: Central America, Europe, South America, United States, Caribbean Islands, and throughout the Christian world
Symbols and Customs: Carnival King, Forty Hours' Devotion, Fried Dough, King Cakes, Krewes, Ox
Colors: Purple, green, and gold (see KING CAKES )
Related Holidays: Ash Wednesday, Lent, Maslenitsa, Shrove Tuesday ORIGINS

Carnival is a time when Christians celebrate before the start of LENT. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

The season known to Christians as Carnival actually extends all the way from EPIPHANY (January 6) to SHROVE TUESDAY, or the day before LENT. The Latin carne vale means "farewell to meat," but it could also be a broader reference to the pleasures that are forbidden during the forty days of Lent. Carnival in general is a time for feasting and self-indulgence, with the most intense period of celebration usually taking place the last three days before ASH WEDNESDAY and particularly on Shrove Tuesday. It features masked balls, lavish costume parades, torchlight processions, dancing, fireworks, and of course feasting on all the foods that will have to be given up for Lent. It is interesting to note that processions, feasting, and masquerades were also popular activities among the pagans during their spring festivals, which were designed to ensure the health and growth of their crops. Most of the features of the modern Carnival celebration are firmly rooted in a tradition that can be traced back to the fourteenth century.

One of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The parades, pageants, and costume balls go on for four days, but the highlight of the festival is the parade of the samba schools, which takes place on the Sunday and Monday preceding Ash Wednesday. The competition among Carnival

these neighborhood groups is fierce, and people spend months beforehand making costumes and learning special dances for the parade.

The most flamboyant Carnival celebration in the United States takes place during the two weeks preceding Ash Wednesday in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was known among New Orleans' early French settlers as Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") because the day before the start of Lent was traditionally a time to use up all the milk, butter, eggs, and animal fat left in the kitchen. This grand celebration culminates in a series of parades organized by groups known as KREWES . With marching jazz bands and elaborately decorated floats, the parades attract over a million spectators every year.

New Orleans' Mardi Gras has been cancelled only a few times in its 150 year history-during a 1979 police strike, the Civil War, and two World Wars. But it came very close to being cancelled again in February 2006. The previous year, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, damaging many critical levees, leaving eighty percent of the city underwater, claiming more than 1,600 lives, and decimating city infrastructure, schools, hospitals and libraries.

Many residents of New Orleans, still mourning the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, felt it was too soon and too painful to celebrate Mardi Gras. Others thought the city needed to proceed with its cherished tradition in order to demonstrate its resilience, provide a needed distraction, and to promote psychological healing and financial recovery. Ultimately, the 2006 Mardi Gras did take place with over half of New Orleans' pre-Katrina residents still missing from the city, a diminished crowd of visitors, fewer krewes, and parades shortened and re-routed to circumvent the most severely damaged sections of the city.


Carnival King

Carnival is an especially important season for Roman Catholics. In Italy, Spain, France, and other European countries where the influence of Rome has been the strongest, a popular feature of Carnival celebrations is a burlesque figure, often made out of straw and known as the Carnival King. When his brief reign over the Carnival festivities is over, the king is usually shot in public, burned, drowned, or otherwise destroyed while the onlookers cheer openly. This may be a symbolic act designed to rid the spectators of their folly and sinfulness.

One theory about the origin of the Carnival King is that he is a direct descendant of the old King of the SATURNALIA, the ancient Roman festival held in December. This pagan king was a man chosen to impersonate the Roman agricultural god Saturn for the duration of the celebration; but at the end, he suffered a real death rather than a make-believe one. The brutal custom of putting a mock king to death eventually faded, but the idea of appointing someone to reign over the festivities appears to have survived in the figure of the Carnival King.

Forty Hours' Devotion

To encourage good Christians to compensate for the excessive behavior exhibited at Carnival time, Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 instituted a special devotion for the three days preceding Lent. Called the "Forty Hours of Carnival," it is still held in many American and European churches where carnival celebrations are a longstanding tradition. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed all day Monday and Tuesday, and devotions are held in the evening.

Fried Dough

Most Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations throughout the world include the preparation of some form of fried dough. In New Orleans, for example, the beignet is a square doughnut without a hole, similar to a fritter. In some areas of Germany, where Carnival is called Fastnacht, fried dough is served in the form of Fast- nachtkuchen. This raised doughnut was brought to the United States by the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania, and such fried cakes can still be found in other German-settled areas of the country.

Since it was customary on Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," to use up all the animal fat in the house before the start of Lent, food was often fried so the fat wouldn't go to waste.

King Cakes

The round or oval cakes known as King Cakes are one of the primary foods associated with the Carnival season. They are frosted with alternating bands of sugar in the three colors that have become associated with Mardi Gras: purple, symbolizing justice; green, symbolizing faith; and gold, symbolizing power. There are tiny dolls-or sometimes a bean-hidden in the cakes, and whoever is served the piece containing the doll or bean is crowned king for a day. In New Orleans, where the Carnival season begins with the Bal du Roi (King's Ball), a Parisian tradition, the person who gets the doll has to hold the next ball. These balls continue throughout the season, with the final one being held on Mardi Gras.


The private clubs known as "krewes" that give parties, parades, and balls during the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans can be traced back to 1831 in Mobile, Carnival

Alabama. A man named Michael Krafft had been out celebrating New Year's Eve with his friends when they decided to break into a hardware store. They stole some cowbells and rakes, and paraded through the streets making as much noise as possible. This incident led to the establishment of the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, which organized a rowdy costume parade the following year featuring tableaux and dancing. In 1857, six men from Mobile who had been members of the society and who now lived in New Orleans decided to introduce a similar organization there, which they called the Mystick Krewe of Comus-a reference both to the masque (a dramatic entertainment featuring elaborate costumes, scenery, music, and dancing) Comus, written by English poet John Milton, and to the Greek and Roman god of revelry, feasting, and nocturnal entertainment. The word "krewe" is supposed to have come from the Anglo-Saxon spelling of "crew."

By 1988, there were approximately sixty other krewes in New Orleans, and today they parade through the streets for nearly three weeks before Mardi Gras. Comus remains the most traditional krewe, producing floats for the parade similar to those seen a hundred years ago. The other krewes-with names like Rex, Zulu, Proteus, and Momus-are also private clubs, often linked to old-line Protestant or Catholic social networks. In addition, there are "maverick" krewes whose membership is open to anyone who can pay the required fee. The floats designed by the krewes range from the most traditional-small, delicate floats with a great deal of ornamental sculpture and extensive use of gold and silver foil-to considerably less formal processions of decorated vans and trucks.

Some think that the krewes and their parades go back to the reynages of medieval France-make-believe kingdoms established as part of the Carnival celebration. It is also possible that the floats seen in today's Mardi Gras parades were derived from religious tableaux originally performed in churches but moved outside when they became too rowdy.


One theory regarding the origin of "Fat Tuesday" or Mardi Gras is that it was named after the practice of leading a fattened ox through the village streets before Lent. Afterward, it was slaughtered to provide the final meal before Lenten restrictions on meat and dairy products went into effect.

In many Carnival celebrations held in France today, a fattened ox plays a central role in the festivities. A child known as the "king of butchers" usually rides in a decorated car behind the ox, and people throw confetti or blow horns as the ox and the butcher pass by. In New Orleans, the Krewe of Rex (see KREWES ) is credited with reintroducing the fattened ox to the Mardi Gras celebration by using it as the theme for a giant float.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Frazer, Sir James G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1931. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2002. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Purdy, Susan. Festivals for You to Celebrate. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Franz Xaver. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.


Louisiana State Museum

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Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a form of popular festivity with street parades and theatricalized games; primarily an open-air event.

The origins of the carnival lie in pagan rites commemorating the change in seasons and in the spring agricultural festivities and fairs. The name “carnival” originated in Italy in the late 13th century. Commedia delVarte, the most popular national form of theater in 16th-century Italy, developed with the carnival. The Russian form of carnival, called maslenitsa, was a unique national celebration held during the Shrovetide winter festivities. In the 18th century, carnival was particularly popular in Italy (Venice and Rome), Germany, and France (Nice); it is now celebrated in Latin America and Spain.

In the USSR, carnival celebrations are held on youth, student, and sports holidays.[ 11–1320–1 ]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Various dates, from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday Eve
The period known as Carnival—probably from the Latin caro or carne levara, meaning "to take away meat" and "a farewell to flesh"—begins anytime after Epiphany and usually comes to a climax during the last three days before Ash Wednesday, especially during Mardi Gras. It is a time of feasting and revelry in anticipation of the prohibitions of Lent.
Carnival is still observed in most of Europe and the Americas. It features masked balls, lavish costume parades, torch processions, dancing, fireworks, noisemaking, and of course feasting on all the foods that will have to be given up for Lent. Ordinarily Carnival includes only the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday ( see Fasching), but sometimes it begins on the preceding Friday or even earlier. In Brazil, Carnival is the major holiday of the year.
See also Karneval in Cologne and Shrove Tuesday
BkDays-1864, vol. I, pp. 65, 236
BkFest-1937, pp. 4, 29, 38, 54, 67, 95, 102, 111, 120, 132, 146, 166, 179, 219, 241, 249, 259, 267, 289, 298, 316, 328
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 105, 178, 181, 192, 193, 197, 220, 370, 397, 543, 568, 629, 747, 749, 757, 759, 787, 807, 842, 844, 947, 977, 980, 1082
EncyEaster-2002, p. 51
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 98
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 6, 23, 34, 55, 56, 89, 124, 151, 163, 191, 211, 230
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 88
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 132
GdUSFest-1984, pp. 5, 68, 133
GdWrldFest-1985, pp. 4, 24, 64, 96, 133, 147, 175
HolSymbols-2009, p. 106
IntlThFolk-1979, pp. 44, 82, 278
OxYear-1999, p. 603
RelHolCal-2004, p. 91

Celebrated in: Argentina, Aruba, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Hungary, India, Malta, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland

Carnival (Argentina)
The celebration of Carnival in Argentina has decreased in the larger cities, but it remains the most popular celebration of the year in the more sparsely inhabited northern zone. In the province of Jujuy, men and women wearing colorful blankets perform carnivalito, a traditional round dance where couples continually vary a few simple figures while their leader waves a handkerchief or ribboned stick and calls out for changes in a high voice. Although this dance at one time was associated with an ancient harvest festival, its significance in this context has been long forgotten. In some places people dance for a few hours a day. These festivities may continue for as long as a month.
The tincunaco ceremony is an important part of the Carnival celebration in other areas of Argentina. The ceremony symbolizes the sacred ties that unite a mother and her child's godmother. It takes place under an arch made from a branch taken from a willow tree and decorated with fruit, sweets, cheese, blossoms, and lanterns. The mothers line up on one side of the arch, the godmothers on the other. They move toward one another until they meet under the arch. There they touch foreheads and pass a child made from candy from one to the other. The celebration usually draws to a close with the mock funeral of Pukllay, the spirit of Carnival. One woman, chosen to act as Pukllay's wife, cries about her husband's death. The others tap drums and sing Carnival tunes. Pukllay—usually a rag doll dressed in native costume—is laid to rest in a freshly dug grave showered with blossoms and sweets.
National Secretariat of Tourism, Tourist Information Centers
Av. Santa Fe 883
Buenos Aires, C1059ABC Argentina
54-11-4312-2232; fax: 54-11-4302-7816
FiestaTime-1965, p. 53

Celebrated in: Argentina

Carnival (Aruba)
February-March; three days before Ash Wednesday
Preparations for the Carnival celebration on the island of Aruba begin months before the actual event. There is a calypso competition at the end of January, followed by a steel band competition to see who gets to perform in the Carnival parade in Oranjestad. Then there's a tumba contest, "tumba" being the native music of the Netherlands Antilles. The actual celebration begins three days before Ash Wednesday and ends at midnight on Mardi Gras.
The highlight is the Carnival Main Parade, which takes eight hours to wind its way through the streets of Oranjestad. It includes elaborate floats and people in colorful costumes dancing the jump-up, a dance performed to a half-march rhythm. The three-day festival comes to an end with the Old Mask Parade, followed by the traditional burning of "King Momo."
Aruba Tourism Authority
One Financial Pl., Ste. 2508
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33394
954-767-6477; fax: 954-767-0432
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 4

Celebrated in: Aruba

Carnival (Bolivia)
While Carnival celebrations were formerly held throughout Bolivia, the tendency in recent years has been for people to gather in the larger cities, such as La Paz, Sucre, Cochambamba, and Oruro, where the dancing and drinking can go on for a week ( see also Carnival of Oruro). Pepinos, masked clowns that wear striped clothing and carry cardboard rods, are found only in La Paz. They wander through the crowds talking in high-pitched voices so that no one will know who they are. Thus disguised they strike at random passersby—who often hit back—with their cardboard batons. Those who wish to dress as pepinos must apply to the police for a special license and wear it throughout the festival so that all can see it. In this way, festivalgoers can identify pepinos that cause injury to people or property.
Bolivian Embassy
3014 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-483-4410; fax: 202-328-3712
FiestaTime-1965, p. 46

Celebrated in: Bolivia

Carnival (Brazil)
Between January 30 and March 5; four days preceding Ash Wednesday
Carnival is the largest popular festival in Brazil, the last chance for partying before Lent. The most extravagant celebration takes place along the eight miles of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, where, since the 1930s, the parades, pageants, and costume balls go on for four days, all accompanied by the distinctive rhythm of the samba. The whole city is decorated with colored lights and streamers, and impromptu bands play on every street corner. Banks, stores, and government offices are closed until noon on Ash Wednesday.
The high point of the Carioca (as the natives of Rio are known) Carnival is the parade of the samba schools ( Escola de Samba ), which begins on Carnival Sunday and ends about midday on Monday. The samba schools are neighborhood groups, many of whom come from the humblest sections of Rio, who develop their own choreography, costumes, and theme songs. The competition among them is as fierce as the rivalry of top sports teams. A single samba school can have as many as two to three thousand participants, so the scale of the parade can only be described as massive. People spend months learning special dances for the parade, and must often raise huge sums of money to pay for their costumes, which range from a few strategically placed strings of beads to elaborate spangled and feathered headdresses. Each samba school dances the length of the Sambadrome, a one-of-a-kind samba stadium designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in 1984 to allow 85,000 spectators to watch the samba schools dance by. Viewing the parade from the Sambadrome is usually an all-night affair.
In recent years, more and more of Carnival has moved into clubs, the Club Monte Libano being one of the most famous. The Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest held by transvestites on Sugarloaf Mountain is among the most unusual events.
Rio de Janeiro Tourism Authority
Praca Pio X, 119 - 9? andar - Centro
Rio de Janeiro-RJ-, Cep 20040-020 Brasil
55-21-2271-7000; fax: 55-21-531-1872
BkHolWrld-1986, Feb 25
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 193
EncyEaster-2002, p. 38
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 102
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 136
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 24

Celebrated in: Brazil

Carnival (Colombia)
February-March; Friday through Tuesday before Ash Wednesday
From the Friday preceding Ash Wednesday until Shrove Tuesday, the Colombian city of Barranquilla celebrates Carnival. There are costume balls, folklore shows, water festivals, and, on the night before Ash Wednesday, the ceremonial burial of "JosÉ Carnaval," the spirit who rules over the festivities. Each barrio, or neighborhood, chooses its own beauty queen and holds informal parties, while the city's wealthier inhabitants hold pageants and formal balls, competing to see who can come up with the most ornate costume. Ron blanco, the local white rum, is the favored drink, and residents dance in the streets to African and Indian rhythms. The Battle of Flowers on the opening day of the festival involves many elaborate floats decorated with the country's exotic flora.
Colombian Embassy
2118 Leroy Pl. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-387-8338; fax: 202-232-8643
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 64

Celebrated in: Colombia

Carnival (Cuba)
Late July to early August
The celebration of Carnival in Havana, Cuba, dates back to the earliest years of the republic, when it featured comparsas, or groups of Afro-Cuban dancers, and parades of local officials and other distinguished people in carriages or on horseback. The first floats, many of them imported from New Orleans, appeared in 1908, but from then on, the people of Havana began to design and construct floats of their own and to establish what soon became one of the best-known Carnival celebrations in all of the Americas.
The comparsas remain the highlight of Carnival. About 18 of these dance groups, which come from all parts of the island, entertain Carnival goers with well-orchestrated spectacles of song, dance, and gorgeous costume. Some of the comparsas—composed of ordinary people from all walks of life—have been in existence for nearly 100 years. Each brings its own band and pauses at several points along the parade route to present its choreographic spectacle. This usually includes a conga line, whose characteristic step may represent an attempt to mimic the foot-dragging gait of slaves in chains.
Under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro, Carnival has become somewhat more restrained. Floats and dramatic spectacles are often utilitized for propaganda purposes and to ridicule the country's political enemies. In recent years Carnival has been held over two or more weeks in late July and early August and associated with National Day on July 26 ( see Cuba Liberation Day).
FiestaTime-1965, p. 38

Celebrated in: Cuba

Carnival (Goa, India)
February-March; Saturday through Tuesday before Ash Wednesday
In Goa, a region on the southwest coast of India, Carnival is known as Intruz because it leads into the period of Lent. Social conventions are relaxed, and people wearing masks toss cocotes and cartuchos (small paper packets containing flour and sawdust) at one another, or squirt each other with syringes of perfumed colored water—much like what goes on during the Hindu festival of Holi. In Panaji, the capital of Goa, there is a huge parade in honor of King Momo, the Lord of the Revels, on Shrove Tuesday. There are floats with dancers and bands playing swing music, stilt-walkers dressed up as Walt Disney characters, tableaux, and grotesque figures in African masks. The entire procession can take as long as four hours to pass, ending at the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Afterward, there is dancing in the town squares, public halls, and on the beaches, with older people doing the tango and waltz while the young people dance to popular music. The festivities end at dawn on Ash Wednesday, when most attendees head for church services.
Goa Tourism Development Corporation Ltd.
Trionara Apts, Dr. Alvares Costa Rd.
Panaji, Goa 403 001 India
91-832-2424001; fax: 91-832-2423926
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 140

Celebrated in: India

Carnival (Haiti)
February-March; three days preceding Ash Wednesday
Although the official Carnival holiday in Haiti takes place during the last three days before Ash Wednesday, the celebration actually begins on the first Sunday after Epiphany, when bandes or groups of costumed dancers begin to appear in the streets of the cities and suburbs. They often carry a sort of maypole, plant it in someone's yard, and then braid a simple pattern with the colored streamers as they dance to the rhythm of drums. The dancers often travel with marchandes who sell rum, candy, and rolls from the trays they carry on their heads. After the neighbors have gifted the dancers with a few coins, the whole entourage packs up and moves on to the next location.
The last three days before Ash Wednesday are particularly boisterous and exciting in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Almost everyone appears in costume, blowing noisemakers or playing musical instruments. Floats are pulled through the streets, decorated with bird feathers, palm fronds, flowers, and seashells as well as more mundane materials such as bottle caps, ribbons, and fabric. Because the merrymakers wear masks, they feel free to make fun of political leaders and local institutions. Although the Port-au-Prince celebration is the largest in Haiti, even wilder ones are held in Jacmel, Cap Haitien, Cayes, and JÉrÉmie.
See also Carnival Lamayote; Rara
Haitian Embassy
2311 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-332-4090; fax: 202-745-7215
BkHolWrld-1986, Feb 9
FestWrld: Haiti-1999, p. 8
FiestaTime-1965, p. 40

Celebrated in: Haiti

Carnival (Hungary) (Farsang)
January 6 to Ash Wednesday (February-March)
This is the time of year when most weddings are celebrated in Hungary, and when dances, parties, and festivities are held. In some parts of the country, villagers perform the symbolic burying of King Marrow Bone, who represents life's indulgences. Prince Cibere, whose name recalls the sour bran soup served throughout Lent, begins his 40-day reign on Ash Wednesday.
In southern Hungary, masks known as busó that are passed down from one generation to the next are worn during Mardi Gras. They are made out of carved wood painted with ox blood, with animal skins covering the top and ram's horns emerging from either side. Although at one time only adult married men could wear these masks, young unmarried men now wear them, shaking huge wooden rattles, shooting off cannons, and teasing women with long sticks topped by sheepskin gourds. In Slovenia, these masks have dangling red tongues, and the men wearing them run around in groups carrying clubs covered at one end with the skins of hedgehogs. The Busó parade in Mohács is said to be the biggest carnival event in Hungary.
Hungarian National Tourist Office
350 Fifth Ave., Ste. 7107
New York, NY 10118
212-695-1221; fax: 212-695-0809
BkFest-1937, p. 166
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 140

Celebrated in: Hungary

Carnival (Malta)
February-March; before Ash Wednesday
Carnival in Malta includes five days of pre-Lenten festivities, a custom since the 1500s. There are some festivities in the villages, but the main activities are in the capital city of Valletta. Here the traditional events include a parade with floats, brass bands, and participants wearing grotesque masks, as well as open-air folk-dancing competitions. A King Carnival reigns over the festival.
Malta National Tourist Office
65 Broadway, Ste. 823
New York, NY 10006
212-430-3799; fax: 425-795-3425
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 142

Celebrated in: Malta

Carnival (Martinique and Guadeloupe)
January-March, until Ash Wednesday night
Carnival celebrations on the French Caribbean island of Martinique and its sister island of Guadeloupe begin the Sunday after New Year's Day with weekend parties and dances in the larger cities and towns. But they reach a climax during the last few days before Lent. On the Sunday before Lent, there are parades with marchers in exotic costumes dancing to the beat of the beguine, a Congolese ritual dance. Stores and offices are closed on Monday, an official holiday that is spent singing and dancing, with masked balls that go on far into the night. Shrove Tuesday is a day for children to dress up in red-devil costumes and carry homemade tridents as they parade through the streets.
The celebration continues right through Ash Wednesday, when thousands of masked, costumed she-devils (many of whom are men in drag) have a parade of their own. Everyone wears black and white, and dark-skinned faces are smeared with ash. Effigies of King Vaval and his alter ego, Bois-Bois, tower over the procession. That night the effigies are burned, and Vaval's coffin is lowered into the ground.
Martinique Promotion Bureau
444 Madison Ave., 16th Fl.
New York, NY 10022
800-391-4909 or 212-838-7800; fax: 212-838-7855
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 133

Carnival (Mexico)
Carnival celebrations in Mexico vary from one town or region to the next, but almost all involve folk and ritual dances. In Tepeyanco and Papalotla, Tlaxcala State, paragueros ("umbrella men") perform exaggerated polkas and mazurkas during Carnival, wearing headdresses shaped like an umbrella. In Santa Ana Chiautempan and Contla, also in Tlaxcala State, los catrines —men dressed as women, or "dandies"—carry umbrellas as they mock high-society dances. Other dances performed during Carnival include the moros, diablos, and muertos taken over from the Spanish, as well as the arcos and pastoras, which are danced with flowered arches. In Morelos, the Carnival dancers are known as chinelos. Although they were formerly disguised as black Africans, nowadays they wear long embroidered satin gowns, hats topped with ostrich plumes, and masks with horn-shaped black beards.
Carnival in Mexico is known for drama as well as dance. In Zaachila, Oaxaca State, there is a mock battle between priests and devils. In Huejotzingo, Puebla State, an elaborate drama staged over a period of three or four days dramatizes the exploits of the bandit Agustin Lorenzo and the woman with whom he elopes. Carnival is celebrated in Mexico City with fireworks, parades, street dancers, and costume balls.
See also St. Martin's Carnival
Mexico Tourism Board
21 E. 63rd St., Fl. 3
New York, NY 10021
800-446-3942 or 212-821-0314; fax: 212-821-0367
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 193, 197, 220, 759
IntlThFolk-1979, p. 278

Celebrated in: Mexico

Carnival (Panama)
February-March; four days preceding Ash Wednesday
The celebration of Carnival in Panama begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, when the Carnival Queen and her courtiers enter Panama City. They are greeted by King Momus, the god of gaiety. The Queen leads a parade through the streets, to the accompaniment of murgas, or walking bands. Sunday is Pollera Day, when the women bring out the brilliantly colored, hand-embroidered, multilayered pollera dresses that are often handed down from one generation to the next. Monday is the day when the comparasas —precision dance troupes dressed in elaborate costumes—compete for prizes. On Tuesday, the last day of the celebration, there is a Grand Parade of floats, walking bands, dancers, and all the groups that have performed or paraded on previous days. The festivities continue throughout the night, ending at dawn with the "burial of the fish" ceremony. A mock funeral is held for a dead fish, which is then dumped into the ocean or a swimming pool.
See also Burial of the Sardine
Embassy of Panama
2862 McGill Terr. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-483-1407; fax: 202-483-8413
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 144
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 147

Celebrated in: Panama

Carnival (Peru)
In Peru, it is customary during Carnival for people to throw water and flour at each other. Sometimes the flour and water are thrown from a balcony on whoever happens to be walking beneath. Groups of young people often stage battles in which the boys throw the girls into fountains or bathtubs and vice versa. At Carnival dances, even well-bred young men and women squirt water at each other from special syringes sold for this purpose. Water-throwing battles are common between sailboats on lakes and in private homes. A particularly colorful celebration is held in Cajamarca.
Although Carnival is celebrated throughout Peru, the events are not as elaborate as those in neighboring Brazil.
Commission for the Promotion of Peru
Calle Uno Oeste No. 50, piso 13th
Urb. Corpac
Lima, 27 Peru
51-1-4224-3131; fax: 51-1-224-7134
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 37

Celebrated in: Peru

Carnival (Portugal)
February-March; three days preceding Ash Wednesday
The pre-Lenten festivities in Portugal reach a peak on the last three days before Ash Wednesday. There was a time when the Carnival celebration in Lisbon was characterized by sexual banter and horseplay, with battles involving eggs, oranges, flour, and water. But the present-day public festivities are more restrained. People decorate their cars with masses of flowers, and as the cars parade through town, they pelt their friends and neighbors with blossoms while the bystanders try to retaliate.
There are balls, parties, and dances in the cities, but in rural areas many of the more uninhibited Carnival traditions persist. The folía (literally, "madness"), a fertility dance associated with the Portuguese Carnival celebration, is named after the quick and crazy movements of the participants. Mummers and musicians, the burial in effigy of King Carnival, and traditional folk plays are also part of these rural Carnival observances.
Portuguese National Tourist Office
590 Fifth Ave., 4th Fl.
New York, NY 10036
800-767-8842 or 212-354-4403; fax: 212-764-6137
BkFest-1937, p. 267
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 34
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 397
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 101

Celebrated in: Portugal

Carnival (Spain)
February-March; three days preceding Ash Wednesday
Carnival in Spain is an occasion for feasting and partying. Bullfights, masquerade parties, weddings, and dances are held in almost every town and village. The Prado Museum in Madrid resembles a huge street fair, with masqueraders, battles of flowers, showers of confetti, and throngs of vendors. In Catalonia, the northeastern section of Spain, Carnival is observed with the baile de cintas or baile del cordon, the Spanish ribbon or maypole dance. Another traditional Spanish dance associated with Carnival is los seises ("the six"), similar to the English Morris dance. When los seises were on the verge of being suppressed in 1685, they were preserved by papal edict for as long as the costumes lasted. With good care and numerous repairs, they have lasted to this day.
Throwing flowers and confetti at bystanders from blossom-decked cars is another Carnival tradition in Spain. Some towns even stage a battle of flowers. A particularly colorful celebration is held in Valencia, where the orange trees are in bloom at this time of year.
The city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife hosts what many consider the most Brazilesque Carnival celebration in Spain. Parades and musical and dance contests fill the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, when there are fireworks and the traditional Burial of the Sardine.
BkFest-1937, p. 298
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 34
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 105, 178, 980
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 101
FestWestEur-1958, p. 191

Celebrated in: Spain

Carnival (Switzerland)
February-March; usually the three days preceding Ash Wednesday
The Swiss actually observe Carnival, or Fasnacht, at two different times: in the Roman Catholic cantons, it is observed according to the Gregorian calendar; the Protestant cantons follow the Julian calendar and celebrate it 13 days later.
In Basel, the lights of the city go out at 4:00 a.m., when fife and drum bands perform in the market square. Then members of the Carnival guilds, wearing wild masks and costumes, parade through the streets with lanterns on long poles or perched on their heads, to the accompaniment of pipers and drummers. Frightening masks are also worn during the Carnival celebration at Flums, where they represent such notions as war, death, or disease. At Einsiedeln, "Carnival Runners" dash through the city's thoroughfares from Sunday to Ash Wednesday morning, displaying frightening masks and huge jangling bells strapped to their backs. The masks and bells found in many Swiss Carnival traditions are believed to have survived from ancient times, when people "drove out winter" with loud sounds and frightening masks.
In some parts of Switzerland it is the children who parade through the streets at Carnival, singing and carrying the national flag. The boys dress in costumes that offer clues to their fathers' professions and the girls masquerade as fairies.
Switzerland Tourism
Swiss Center
608 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10020
877-794-8037 or 212-757-5944; fax: 212-262-6116
Basel Fasnacht Online
Glockengasse 7
Basel, 4051 Switzerland
BkFest-1937, p. 316
BkHolWrld-1986, Mar 4
EncyEaster-2002, p. 593
FestWestEur-1958, p. 230
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 147

Celebrated in: Switzerland

Carnival (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Last two weeks in April
Unlike Carnival in New Orleans, Brazil, and elsewhere in the world, where it is a pre-Lenten celebration, the Virgin Islands Carnival is held after Easter, toward the end of April. It dates back to the days when Danish plantation owners gave their slaves time off to celebrate the end of the sugar cane harvest. Although the first Carnival in 1912 was a great success, it wasn't held again for four decades. Since 1952, it has been an annual event in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, and nowadays the Carnival observance in St. Thomas ranks second only to the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.
Preliminary events begin a week or more beforehand, and the official Carnival period runs from Sunday until midnight the following Saturday. It begins with the opening of Calypso Tent, a week-long calypso song competition for the coveted title of "Calypso King." The celebrations include the crowning of a Carnival Queen, children's parades, a J'Ouvert morning tramp, steel bands, and dancing in the streets. The climax comes on Saturday with the grand carnival parade, featuring limbo dancers, masked figures, and mock stick-fights between Carib Indians and "Zulus." The celebration winds up with one of the most elaborate all-day parades in the Caribbean, featuring the Mocko Jumbi Dancers. These are colorful dancers on 17-foot stilts whose dances and customs derived from ancient cult traditions brought to the islands by African slaves.
US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
P.O. Box 6400
St. Thomas, VI 00804
800-372-8784 or 340-774-8784; fax: 340-774-4390
AnnivHol-2000, p. 73
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 36
GdUSFest-1984, p. 221

Celebrated in: US Virgin Islands

Carnival (Venice)
Begins between February 3 and March 9; ending on Shrove Tuesday night
The Carnival celebration in Venice, Italy, is more sophisticated and steeped in tradition than the flashy celebrations that take place in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans ( see Carnival in Brazil; Mardi Gras). Costumes for the event are often drawn from the stock characters of Italian popular theater from the 16th through 18th centuries—including Harlequin, a masked clown in diamond-patterned tights; Punchinello, the hunchback; and Pierrot, the sad white-faced clown adapted by the French from the commedia dell'arte. There are also traditional costumed characters such as La Bautta (the domino), Il Dottore (the professor or doctor of law), and the Renaissance count or countess.
Italian university students, usually in more innovative costumes, pour into Venice as Ash Wednesday draws near. The rhythm of the celebration quickens, evidenced by a number of spectacular costume balls. The costume ball given at Teatro La Fenice—a benefit for charity—is known for attracting film stars, members of European nobility, and other rich and famous people.
Comune di Venezia
San Marco, Venice 04136 Italy
EncyEaster-2002, p. 305
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 141
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.