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    Immerse Yourself in the Magic of the Carnival in Europe

    We've all heard of the Brazilian Carnival, but we should not forget that countries on this side of the Atlantic can host a great party too! The celebrations taking place around the world at this time of year go by many different names, but all derive their origin from the culmination of the period before the beginning of Lent, with festivities generally reaching their peak before Ash Wednesday.Over time, the ways of celebrating this period commonly known as Carnival have become varied and diverse between different countries, but all seem to centre around fun, enjoyment, and the celebration of life. Find out about the festivities taking place in Italy, Spain's Canary Islands, and the UK, and discover the magic and wonder of the Carnival!

    Venice, Italy

    Masks are central to the Carnival in Venice.[/caption]Famous for its masterful masks and elaborate costumes, the Venetian Carnival is said to have originated from the victory of the Serenissima Repubblica against the Patriarch of Aquileia as early as 1162, later becoming an official celebration during the Renaissance period. The festival has had a tumultuous history, having been banned during the rule of the King of Austria in 1797, and only being brought back with full force by the Italian government in 1979 to promote Venetian culture and history.Today, the Carnival creates an air of mystery and enchantment with the city and its inhabitants donning elaborate costumes and decorations. The famous masks always played a crucial role in the Carnival in Venice, with the maskmakers of old enjoying a special status and having their own guild. Different masks denoted various occupations, and many of these distinctive masquerades are still worn today by those taking part in the festivities. The Carnival of today sees Venice organise fetes of all kinds, from masquerade balls in gilded palaces to city-wide performances by acrobats, dancers, and artists, all keeping in line with this year's theme of fairy tale and fantasy.

    Santa Cruz, Tenerife

    One of the largest and most significant carnival celebrations in Spain, the festivities in Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife truly aim to take the party to another level. The jubilations of the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife are considered to have started during the earliest European settlements, or even earlier, and over time have grown into an elaborate affair of grand proportions.Wednesday, before the Carnival weekend, sees the election of the Queen of the Carnival. The contestants perform in famously extravagant dresses and accessories, that are so heavy that the would-be Queens have to be moved around using wheeled transportation. Saturday is devoted completely to dance, which is only fitting, as the Carnival boasts over a hundred dance groups (comparsas), musical groups (rondallas), and satirical singing groups (murgas). Monday is the day of feasting. A grand parade through the city marks the end of the festival on Tuesday, and on Ash Wednesday, the whole city is dressed as if in mourning for the so called 'burial of the sardine'. A funeral procession is held for an enormous paper sardine and the party is officially over. However, the following weekend, the weekend of the piñata, the celebrations begin again for the duration of the weekend! If you've already experienced the festivities here, we suggest you visit Las Palmas during the Carnival weekend, as the city in Gran Canaria also promises a fun and exciting celebration.

    Ashbourne and Olney, England

    Pancake races are now held around the country as charitable events.[/caption]The period preceding the beginning of Lent may not see gilded masks or elaborate costumes in England, but there are fun, and strange, celebrations taking place on and around Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. First, there is the pancake race, an event held in Olney, Buckinghamshire, since 1445. The contestants race through a 415 yard course with frying pans, wearing a scarf and apron, and have to flip their pancakes at the start and finish of the course. After the race is finished, a church service is held. The origins of the event are unclear, though legend tells of a housewife, who was frying pancakes, and had to rush to church with her apron, frying pan, and pancake, when she heard the bells ring. Pancake races are today held in other parts of the country as well as charitable events.The second Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday tradition takes place in Ashbourne, Derbyshire: the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match. Sometimes referred to as mob football, these mass games have taken place in England since the 14th century. In spite of being called football, the game in Ashbourne has little to do with the sport. The two teams, the Up'Ards and the Down'Ards, are traditionally divided according to whether one was born north or south of the river that runs through the town.The ball is released in the centre of town, and is generally moved along through the town (with only few areas out of bounds) in 'hugs' within groups of tens or even hundreds of participants to the goal. The game is played during Tuesday and Wednesday from 2pm to 10pm, and with no restriction on the number of players, and only very few restrictions on the playing area, shops board up their windows and parking in the town is not recommended.

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