Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Purim 2018

As part of my ongoing discussions on upcoming religious observances, I would like to share with you that the evening of Wednesday, February 28 (for 2018) marks the beginning of the Jewish festival of Purim.  As with all Jewish holidays, Purim runs from sunset to sunset, so the holiday closes at sunset on Thursday, March 1.

Purim celebrates the story of the Biblical Book of Esther. This post first gives the background to the meaning of the holiday from the Book of Esther, then explains the way that the holiday of Purim is celebrated by Jews from around the world.

The Story of the Book of Esther

The Book of Esther recounts the saving of the Jews of ancient Persia from the plot of the vizier Haman to kill all Jews in the land. Haman had planned to kill all the Jews in Persia. He was angered because a Jew named Mordechai had refused to bow down before him.

Marc Chagall's Esther (1960)
Musée national Message Biblique, Nice
Mordechai’s niece was Esther (her Persian name; her Hebrew name was Hadassah). Esther became the queen of the Persian King Ahashueras (alternatively spelled Ahasueras).

Mordechai had thwarted a plot on the king's life soon after Esther's rise to the throne, but the king was unaware of this and Haman disregards this obsessing instead on the fact that Mordechai refuses to bow down to Haman (because this is prohibited in his faith).  Outraged, Haman lays out plans for the slaughter of all Jews in Persia (at the time, home to most Jews in the world). Only Esther had the ability to thwart the plan; however, to do so, she would have to approach the king uninvited, an act that -- if it displeased the king -- carried the death penalty. Despite this, Esther risked her life to reveal that she was a Jew herself and that Haman’s plan to kill the Jews would mean her death as well. Purim is the holiday commemorating this.

Xerxes I,
the Biblical Ahashueras

The Historical Setting

While some debate exists over who Ahashueras really was, he is generally ascribed as being Xerxes I who ruled Persia from 486-465 BCE.

At the time, the Persian empire was the largest empire in the world, stretching from present-day Iran in the east to Egypt in the west and covering the entire fertile crescent (modern Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel), Babylonia (present-day Iraq), all of Asia Minor (including what is now Turkey and Armenia), Bactria (including all of present-day Afghanistan and Tajikistan as well as much of what is now Pakistan and Uzbekistan) and Thrace (including Macedonia and much of Greece and what is now Bulgaria).

The Persian Empire at the time of Xerxes I

The Question of Assimilation and Communal Loyalty

Aert de Gelder's Esther and Mordechai (1685)
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
The Book of Esther for Jews is a controversial book to the extent that it centers on a highly assimilated Jew. Esther's name itself is one that reflects assimilation to the surrounding Persian culture, deriving as it does from the Persian goddess Ishtar (her Hebrew name is Hadassah).

The Book of Esther is also the only book in the Jewish Bible that never once mentions God directly, a point that underscores the issue of assimilation.  Indeed, the central act of bravery in the book is that Esther might have saved herself by keeping her Jewish identity a secret while letting the Jewish people fall victim to Haman's plot. She is convinced to act only when her uncle Mordechai argues the point with her:
“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther, 4:13-14
Esther, in turn, asks Mordechai to call a fast for all Jews for three days  comes before the king, risking her life.

Esther Before the King

Esther's decision is no small choice. Ahashueras had already dispatched of the previous queen for what was essentially a very small offense. Indeed, Esther is so afraid that she faints in his presence. This is the theme of Tintoretto's famous painting of Esther.

Tintoretto, Esther Before Ahasueras (1547-48)
Royal Art Collection, Windsor
King Ahashueras, in response, asks why she has come and assures her that he will not be angry. By contrast asking her
"What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.” Esther, 5:3

Esther before Ahashueras
Illumination in Biblia Pauperum,
Hesdin of Amien, ca. 1450
Instead of telling the king outright, she asks him to prepare a feast for Haman and which she and the king alone would attend. While there at the feast, she assures him, she will then give the king her request.

When Haman was invited, he was overjoyed that he was being honored to dine with the king and queen alone. At the same time, his joy was dampened when he saw Mordechai sitting in the gate. At wife's suggestion, Haman orders a gallows to be built so that Haman can be hanged on the very day that he is going to meet with the king and queen.

Ironically, the king during a bout of insomnia had been going over palace record and, just the night before, had read about how Mordechai had earlier thwarted a plot against his life and that nothing had been done to honor him. As a result, just as Haman approached the king to tell him about the gallows he had constructed, the king asked Haman for advice on how to honor a special man.

Esther and Ahashueras (ca. 1240)
Ste. Chapelle Cathedral, Paris
Thinking the man to be honored would be himself, Haman suggests that the man be led through the streets on the king's horse dressed in the king's clothes and so on. The king then surprised Haman by saying that Haman should do all that he had described for Mordechai, the man he wants to honor.

Rembrandt's Ahasueras and Haman at the Feast of Esther (1660)
Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Still fuming with anger over this affront in honoring the hated Jew, Haman then goes off that evening to the feast set for him by the king and queen. At the feast, the king turns to Esther and asks her finally to tell him what she requests and he will give it to her even up to half of his kingdom.

Esther asks only for her life, saying that she along with all the Jews are to be killed by official order. In tears she explains that she would not have asked him had the order been only for enslavement.

Enraged, the Ahashueras asks her who is responsible for this and Esther tells him that it is Haman. The king then orders Haman and his family hanged on the gallows that Haman himself had had built for Mordechai.. He then gave Mordechai Haman's position, and the Jews were saved and the kingdom well ruiled after that.
Peter Paul Rubens,
Esther Before Ahashueras (1606)
Courtauld Gallery, London

Differing Views of Esther's Heroism

For centuries, Esther has been revered as a heroine in both Jewish and Christian ideals. In Jewish ideal, she could have chosen to hide the fact that she was a Jew to save herself. That she did not but risked everything to save her people is the source of her heroism.

While Esther is similarly admired in Christian theology for this act of heroism, in Christian interpretation, she foreshadows the Virgin Mary who would plead for souls on the Day of Judgment.
Nicholas Poussin's Esther Before Ahashueras, (1640)
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

In current times, however, Esther's status as an ideal heroine has come under debate in some circles among both Jews and Christians. Considerable controversy exists over the nature of how Esther came to the throne. Esther had won the king's favor after winning an empire-wide beauty contest to replace the previous queen, Vashti, who had fallen out of favor with Ahashueras.

In Sir John Everett Millais's Esther (1885),
the artist famously used the Emperor of China's robe
given to General George Gordon as a gift
It should be emphasized that both because of both the fact that Esther was the epitome of feminine beauty (she won the Empire-wide beauty contest, after all) as well as the drama of her story and its religious ideal, Esther has been a very popular subject among the greatest masters of Western art.

Some of the artists who have depicted Esther include Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Filippo Lippi, Artemesia Gentileschi, Nicolas Poussin,  Rembrandt, Antoine Coypel, Jan Lievens, Peter Paul Rubens, Gustave Dore, Sir John Everett Millas, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and many others.

In art historical as well as social terms, it is interesting to view how artists have depicted Esther over time to represent the ideal of beauty of their day.

Purim Observances and Customs

 General Observances

Megillah scroll
On Purim, Jews around the world read the Book of Esther from a special scroll called a Megillah. Because Hebrew does not transliterate directly to English, the scroll is alternatively spelled with one "l" or two, with or without the final "h" and beginning "Ma" or"Me"). Whatever the spelling, it is the same thing: the Book of Esther.  Unlike the Torah scroll, the Megilah is a special second-handled scroll.

Blotting Out The Name of Haman

While the Megillah is read at synagogues or temples to celebrate the holiday,  whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the readings, the listneners are supposed to drown out the evil man's name. As a result, the holiday is very noisy and festive.

A grogger
The Americas and Israel

In much of the world, including the Jews of the United States, Canada, Latin America and Israel, celebrants use a special noisemaker called a grogger (or alternatively called a gragger or gregger) to blot out the name of Haman.  The grogger is a ratchet on the end of a stick, usually made of wood or sheet metal (put in recent times from plastic as well). Each time Haman's name is spoken, the ratchet is spun in a circle making a loud, clacking sound.


Among many French Jews, the noise to drown out Haman's name comes in the form of clacking stones together. On the face of the stone is written or etched the name of Haman. In this way, each time the stones are struck together, Haman's name is effaced. By the end of the Megillah reading, the name has been blotted out audibly by the sound but also visually erased on the stone.


Before the Holocaust, it was the custom of German Jews to light to candles in the synagogue. A picture of Haman was drawn on one with his name written out and of Haman's wife Zeresh and her name on the other. The candles would be lit at the start of the holiday and the images of Haman and his wife would be effaced as they melted away.  

In a sad side note, the Nazi regime had a particular hatred for the holiday of Purim. Hitler believed that Haman was a great hero for having attempted the first genocide of the Jews, and he proudly saw himself as the successor. The Nazis made a point of using Purim as an occasion for the public killing of Jews. The anti-Semitic Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher proclaimed Kristallnacht as a payback for the death of those who plotted against the Jews in ancient Persia. Streicher, when he was sentenced to death for his crimes against humanity in the Nuremburg Trials, shouted out "Purim Fest 1946!"


 In Morocco, Jews bake a special bread called Haman's Eyes (and known alternatively as Einei Haman, Ojos de Haman or Khubz di Purim). 
Moroccan Haman's Eyes Purim Bread
with Full Face of Haman
The bread is decorated with almonds and contains two hard-boiled eggs as eyes. The eggs are held in place with a strip of dough. It is customary to cut the bread to divide the "eyes" so everyone gets a piece of egg with their bread. 

In some cases, the bread is made into an entire head of Haman, replete with a full face and poppyseed beard (as in the version shown at left)

Moroccan Haman's Eyes Purim Bread

In others, the face is more something to imagine, with the eggs simply symbolizing the eyes of Haman (as shown at right).  

In either tradition, the eating of the bread is a means of effacing Haman's memory.

It is often customary to provide pieces of the bread to the poor. A recipe for the full-face version of Moroccan Haman's Eyes bread can be found


Bukharan Jews (Uzabekistan and Tajikistan)

Uzbekistan had two distinct Jewish communities. The Ashkenazic Jews (who followed the same traditions largely followed in Eastern Europe) and the Bukharan Jews that were unique to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

 Bukharan Snow Haman
It was the custom of the Bukharan Jews at Purim to make snow Hamans. These Haman snowmen would be decorated with fruit peels and various pieces of garbage. At the end of Purim, the Bukharan Jews would light a bonfire and melt the Haman, to wipe out his memory.

At this point, it is probably worth noting that the Bukharan Jews were among the oldest Jewish communities outside of Israel, but for the most part no longer exist. Bukharan Jews traced their roots to at least the 6th Century BCE (to which the oldest Jewish ossuaries there date). Sadly, virtually the entire community has been displaced or destroyed, beginning in the 1990's and collapsing entirely in the last 10 years.

Uzbekistan had a large and ancient Jewish community for centuries. As late as 1989, there were still roughly 95,000 Uzbek Jews. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise in Uzbekistan of anti-Semitic Islamist movements culminating in 2005 with the Andijan Massacre, the population of Jews in Uzbekistan essentially evaporated. Today, there are less than 5000 Jews in Uzbekistan, almost all of whom live in and around Tashkent.

Dushanbe Synagogue
destroyed by the Tajik government in 2008

Tajikistan also witnessed mass flight of Jews after an independent Tajikistan emerged from the Soviet Union. Before independence, there were roughly 20,000 Jews in Tajikistan, dating back at least to the 2nd Century BCE; today there are less than 100 Jews left in Tajikistan.The final destruction of the Tajik Bukharan Jewish community came in 2008. In 2008, the Tajik government razed the last active synagogue in Dushanbe along with the community's kosher butcher, ritual bath (mikveh) and Jewish schools. The Tajik government did this (without compensating the Jewish community in any way) to build the Palace of the Nation there. After the Tajik government destroyed the synagogue and other centers in 2008, the remaining Jews who were physically able to leave fled to Israel and the United States.

Algeria, Libya and Tunisia

Algerian, Libyan and Tunisian Jews had their own Purim traditions, largely lost today.Before the expulsion of the Jews from Libya and Algeria following the independence of Israel in 1948, these countries had very large Jewish communities. In 1948 there were 140,00 Jews in Algeria  and 38,000 in Libya. Today there are less than 100 Jews in Algeria and none at all in Libya. In Tunisia, where the Jews were not formally expelled but suffered considerable prejudice following the founding of Israel, the Jewish population shrank from 105,00 in 1948 to roughly 1,500 today.

In all three of these countries Jews would make an effigy of Haman out of rags and stuffed with straw. They would then light a bonfire and throw the effigy into the fire, beating it with special sticks brought for the occasion. After the fire burned down, they would throw salt and sulphur onto it and shout "Cursed be Hamand and Zeresh! Blessed be Mordechai and Esther!"

In Algeria, the custom of lighting candles on Purim was also practiced, a tradition carried on today by some Jews of Algerian origin in France and Israel.

Globally Shared Purim Traditions


Throughout the world in a wide variety of countries (including most of the English-speaking world), Jews eat a special pastries called hamantaschen.  In Yiddish, the name means "Haman's pockets," but are supposed to be shaped like Haman’s triangular hat or Haman's ears. Inside the triangle are fillings such as apricots, poppy seeds, prunes or cherries among others.  An easy recipe for hamantaschen can be found on Purim on the Net website of Holidays.net at

The Whole Megillah

The requirement is to read the entire Megillah twice -- once on the eve of the holiday and once on the morning of the holiday. It is from this repeated reading coupled with the numerous interruptions of the noisemaking involved in drowning out Haman's name that the US English expression "the whole megillah" entered the language to mean a overly elaborate or extended account of a story.
Drinking Alcohol

In many Jewish traditions at Purim, drinking alcohol is – rather uniquely for Judaism – encouraged during the festival.  This tradition developed so that the holiday specifically would not promote intolerance or celebrate the hating of the persecutor; as a result, the tradition is to celebrate to the point that one loses track of the “cursed Haman and the blessed Mordechai.”  The wearing of masks or costumes (akin to the US secular Halloween) also derived from this tradition of not being able to tell apart Haman from Mordechai.

Costumes, Carnivals and Parades
Jewish children
dressed as Esther for Purim
In many Jewish traditions, congregants – especially children – dress up in costume, most commonly those of the key figures in the story. Dressing young girls as Esther is particularly popular, although all figures in the story are common.  In some congegations, there is a Purim play (the Purim Spiel) acting out the story as well.

To add to the festivities, many congregations hold a Purim carnival with games and other activities on the Saturday evening or Sunday following Purim.

Purim Parade in Ashkelon, Israel
In Israel, Purim is a time of costume parties and public celebrations, somewhat akin to the celebrations held for Carnival or Mardi Gras in Christian countries before Lent. Major parades are held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashkelon and many other Israeli cities on Purim. 

Matanot Le'Evyonim
Jews are required to give “matanot le’evyonim” or gifts to the poor on Purim.  Many Jews extend this to mean specifically the giving of meals or food to the poor.

Additionally, in Jewish communities in many countries where Christmas is not widely practiced (e.g., Israel, Morocco, Yemen, Turkey, India), the Jewish community exchanges gifts on Purim rather than on Chanukah.

As with all of my posts on this site regarding religious holidays, this overview is in no way intended to suggest what is or is not proper observance. The sole purpose here is to inform. If you would like to share your own views of the holiday, please do leave a comment. I would welcome hearing from you.

Happy Purim!

Want to Read More?

Alfassa, Shelomo, "Origins of Noise Making to Wipe Out the Evil Name on Purim," Judaic Studies Academic Paper Series, March 2008,  http://www.alfassa.com/paper_purim.pdf

Holidays.net "Purim on the Net": http://www.holidays.net/purim/

United With Israel, "Colorful & Tasty Purim Customs Around the World." http://unitedwithisrael.org/tasty-colorful-purim-customs-from-around-the-world/

Clip art sources:

Happy Purim opening image: http://jewishroots.net/holidays/purim/purim-holiday-page.htm

Chagall's Esther: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/marc-chagall/esther-1960

Xerxes I: http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/images/xerxes.jpg    

Map of ancient Persia: http://70facets.org/messages/2007/PERSIANEMPIRE.png

Aert de Gelder's Esther and Mordechai: http://www.bible-art.info/Esther.htm
Tintoretto's Esther Before Ahasueras: http://www.lib-art.com/artgallery/17354-esther-before-ahasuerus-tintoretto.html

Esther before Ahashueras llumination in Biblia Pauperum: http://www.bible-art.info/Esther.htm

Esther and Ahashueras window, Ste. Chapelle: http://www.wga.hu/support/viewer/z.html

Rembrandt's Ahasueras and Haman at the Feast of Esther: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmenszoon_van_Rijn-_Assuerus,_Haman_and_Esther.JPG 

Peter Paul Rubens, Esther Before Ahashueras (1606), Courtauld Gallery, London:http://uploads8.wikipaintings.org/images/peter-paul-rubens/esther-and-ahasverus.jpg

Nicholas Poussin's Esther Before Ahashueras: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/marc-chagall/esther-1960

Millais' Esther: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Esthermillais.jpg

Megillah scroll: http://0.tqn.com/d/collectibles/1/0/K/z/3/101megillah.jpg

Purim grogger: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Purim_gragger.jpg

Moroccan Haman's Eyes Bread with Full Face of Haman:

Moroccan Haman's Eyes Bread Without Full Face: http://www.secretofchallah.com/site/detail/detail/detailDetail.asp?detail_id=787059

Bukharan Snow Haman: http://cdn.timesofisrael.com/uploads/instagram/51dd96225b5111e2bccc22000a1f8cda_7.jpg

Dushanbe Synagogue destroyed by the Tajik government in 2008: http://www.vosizneias.com/27506/2009/02/17/dushanbe-tajikistan-jews-concerned-about-fate-of-its-only-synagogue/

Hamantaschen: http://www.holidays.net/purim/goodies.html

Jewish children dressed as Esther for Purim: http://www.holidays.net/purim/costumes2.htm

Ashkelon Purim Parade: http://www.ynetnews.com/PicServer2/20022007/1037759/ashkelon1_wa.jpg

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Maha Kumbh Mela

Today, Sunday, February 10 marks the most auspicious day for the bathing rite in India of Maha Kumbh Mela or Grand Kumbh Mela at Prayag.

Although the beginning of the pilgrimage began in 2013 on January 14 and ends on March 10, the highpoint of the event with the Maha Kumbh Mela occurs on Sunday, February 10. This is a special Kumbh Mela that comes just once every 144 years, and represents the transition to a new era.

The Kumbh Mela Pilgrimage

Bathing in the river
In all Kumbh Mela pilgrimages, Hindu pilgrims take a ritual bath in the river, which earns merit and/or washes away sin for the worshiper.  Many different traditions involve prayers, group singing, religious discussions and feeding the thousands of monks and Naga sadhu holy people who gather there.

There are four sacred Kumbh Mela pilgrimages.  They occur four times over a twelve-year cycle.  Each takes place at a holy river site where Hindus believe that drops of “amrita” (divine nectar) fell at the four spots. These are Prayag, Nashik, Ujjain and Haridwar. All involve a ritual dip in the River Ganges to wash away bad karma.

The Kumbh Mela Cycles

As mentioned above, the Purna Kumbha Mela today happens only once every 144 years.

Within the six-year cycles of Kumbh Mela celebrations, are longer cycles. Thus while some form of Kumbh Mela celebration rotates among one of four locations every three years, special Kumbh Mela observances follow a cycle of longer periods. 

The last Kumbh Mela took place in 2010 in Haridwar (the city’s name means “Gateway to God” in Hindi). The New York Times estimated that 500,000 people took part in the ritual bath in the Ganges there, despite being marked by unusually cold weather there that year.

Every six years, Hindus celebrate Ardha Kumba Mela which is celebrated only at Prayag and Haridwar.  The last Ardha Kumba Mela took place at Prayag in 2007. The BBC conservatively estimated approximately 30 million people attended, making it the largest gathering of people in one spot in history.

Every 12 years, Hindus celebrate a Purna Kumbha Mela at Prayag. The last Purna Kumbha Mela took place in 2001.

The Maha Kumbh Mela

Today’s event -- the Maha Kumbh Mela  --  occurs only after the cycle of 12 12-year Purna Kumbha Mela cycles, or once every 144 years. It is the most auspicious of the auspicious days to cleanse oneself at Sangam. The Sangam is the spot where the mythical Saraswati river joins the confluence of the physical rivers of the Ganges and Yamuna. It is considered fortunate even to live during an era in which one has the possibility of experiencing the ritual bathing at Purna Kumbha Mela.

Largest Gathering of People in History

Pilgrims bathing at Maha Kumbh Mela
The event is expected to break the record for the largest gathering of people in one spot in history. Time Magazine estimates upwards of 80 million people. The BBC estimates that the number of people to gather at the banks of the Ganges on the single day of Sunday, February 10, 2013 is expected to exceed 40 million.

Pilgrims approaching the river
To put this in perspective, the annual hadj pilgrimage to Mecca (the largest annual gathering of people anywhere) numbered 3 million last year. The previous record for people gathering at one spot was 30 million people at the Ardha Kumba Mela in 2007 (see below). As another point of comparison, the figure of 80 million people throughout the pilgrimage is approximately the population of Germany, so that were the pilgrims listed as a national population, they would constitute the 14th most populous country in the world. As for the single day event, 40 million people would place the pilgrims’ population as the 30th most populous country in the world, just shy of the population of Spain. To put this in comparison elsewhere, this is twice the population of Australia and almost 8 million more people than the entire population of Canada.

Special Needs of the Gathering

Sanitation and Disease Control 
The special needs for preparing for the pilgrimage are handled through India’s Mela Administration. Particular care is given to prevent the spread of disease. There have been no major outbreaks of disease since care to public health became a priority following an outbreak of cholera at the 1892 Kumbh Mela. 

To this end, in 2013, 6000 sanitation workers clean up after the crowds every day. Time magazine estimates that the sanitation team picks up 56 tons of garbage per day throughout the event. The also bury human waste in 4000 sanitation pits which are sprayed with bleach and DDT. In addition to the sanitation workers, the Mela Administration staffs 250 physicians at 15 field hospitals.

Water Supply 

Workers bringing
extra water supplies
to the Mela site
Drinking water is a continuous concern at all Kumbh Mela gatherings. It is in this area that the government has expressed some concern. The Mela authorities have arranged for 80 million liters of water per day during the event, although estimates are that this comes to just one tap for every 2000 people during the largest press of the gathering on February 10. Various sectors of the Mela site also have leaks in their pipelines and some areas of the makeshift campsites have no pipelines at all. 

Efforts have been made to supplement the exist pipelines with other drinking water sources, although data on how many of these alternatives there are and in what form they take is not available. At the time of this writing, though, the cases of severe diarrhea and related drinking water illness was only 50 people a week, an amazingly low number considering the situation. 

Electrical Grid Maintenance

One major side effect of the Kumbh Mela gatherings has been preparing the four pilgrimage locations with improved electrical grids. For this year’s Maha Kumbh Mela, the Indian government has put up a temporary grid with 45 diesel generators and 53 electrical substations. As Time Magazine observes,
This is particularly awe-inspiring in a country where almost a third of households don’t have enough juice to power a lightbulb.
Terrorist Precautions 
Specially-trained Mela
bomb disposal squads
Since the Mumbai attacks from Islamist terrorists in 2008, special terrorist task forces have also been set up throughout the Mela area. For the 2013 event, all people approaching the 20 kilometer Mela area will be screened for weapons before being allowed entry. 

Plainclothes police and specially trained operatives have been placed throughout the crowds. Additionally, special bomb disposal squads have been trained for the event. Finally, medical staff have been equipped with 400 special “Blast and Bomb” kits for treating potential victims of terrorist explosion attacks. 

Safety and Crowd Control

 Mela security and crowd control officers
Safety and public calm has been another priority since the last major disturbance at a Kumbh Mela almost 60 years ago following the Kumbh Mela stampede of February 3, 1954, the first Kumbh Mela following India’s independence. Estimates on the stampede vary greatly, ranging between 300 and 800 people trampled to death, with the Indian government’s estimates at 500 with 2000 injured.  The stampede was blamed on the absence of adequate crowd control forces coupled with the excitement from the visit of politicians. 

As a result, politicians have been banned from giving speeches at the gatherings ever since. Moreover, well-trained crowd control officers have supervised the event ever since as well. In 2013, the Mela Committee has staffed the site with 14,000 police officers trained in maintaining crowd control. 

The 2013 Stampede: Despite all this, sadly this year, a stamped broke out this year at the train station on Sunday, February 10, 2013. News sources are conflicting as I post this, with estimates ranging from 2 to 20 people trampled. This was the first instance of stampede since the 1954 tragedy. 

For more on the 2013 stampede, please see (the highly varied) coverage from the

Hindustan Times (2 reported dead):


Hinduism has multiple traditions within it. Many of these traditions vary in their interpretation of the rites and significance of the Kumbh Mela. This post is meant only as a brief introductory overview. It is not intended to indicate any particular practice.

As always, I welcome your corrections (or praise) and any other input.  

Happy Maha Kumbh Mela!

 Want to Learn More?

For more on this year’s festival, refer to the Indian government’s official website for this year’s Maha Kumbha Mela festival at http://kumbhmelaallahabad.gov.in/english/ebooks.html

For the official Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 English brochure, see http://kumbhmelaallahabad.gov.in/pdf/mahakumbh_low.pdf

For the news coverage of this year’s events, some articles of interest can be found at the

To read more about the kumbha mela festivals in general, look at

Astroved (Hindu astrological site) at http://www.astroved.com/festival/kumbha-mela/

Clip Art Sources

Workers bringing extra water supplies to the Mela site: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/drinking-water-scarce-kumbh-city

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lenten Season, 2018

Praying woman with
ashen cross on her forehead

Introduction and Religious Significance

As part of my ongoing posts about religious holiday observance, I would like to share another religious tradition that starts this week: the Christian Lenten season.

In 2018, for Christians in the Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Anglican, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and several other Western Christian traditions, the season begins on February 14 with Ash Wednesday.

For Christians in the Eastern Orthodox traditions using the Julian calendar, the season begins on February 19 with Clean Monday, but (atypically) the dates on the Julian and Gregorian calendars  The same holds true for 2018 in the Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, Great Lent (in the latter two churches known as Abiy Tsom) when the Lenten Season begins on February 19 as well.

Normally, the dating for the observance varies markedly among the three traditions. Last year, 2017, the alignment of all three dating systems on the same set of dates was an anomaly.

Ash Wednesday, Clean Monday and the season associated with Lent, Great Lent and Abiy Tsom are all very important holidays in their respective traditions, and you should accommodate employees, students or others who may need to miss activities during at least part of the day in observance.

It should be noted that while many Protestant traditions observe Lent, other Protestant traditions specifically bar the observance of Lent. Some Protestant denominations are divided in their view of the season; for example, some United Church of Christ and Baptist congregations oppose its observance while others support its observance. Additionally, some Protestant denominations, such as the Mennonites, that formerly opposed the observance of Lent have begun to recognize its practice in varying degrees in recent years.

Variations in Dating the Holiday

The season itself runs for 40 days and is called Lent in the Western traditions and Great Lent or the Great Fast in the Eastern traditions.  is a time of introspection for many Christians, and often focuses on questions of mortality and on Jesus' sufferings and sacrifice.  In the Western traditions, Sundays are not counted in the 40 days. In the Eastern Orthodox traditions, Sundays are counted. Within the Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches the Lenten season lasts for 56 days in which period, traditionally only one meal per day is eaten.

To keep in the spirit of these somber subjects, many Christians observe some sort of restrictive behavior, for example many people abstain from alcohol or from attending parties.  In some traditions, observers fast during the day or restrict themselves to one meal only.  For others, observers maintain a vegetarian diet.  For still other traditions, observers give up something they particularly enjoy such as sweets or ice cream.  In many traditions, the fast or abstinence is lifted on the six Sundays during Lent. In Irish tradition, the fast is lifted for St. Patrick's Day (March 17).


Priest placing an ashen cross
on worshiper's forehead

For Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Anglicans, Ash Wednesday is usually observed by attending Mass and having the priest mark one's forehead with ashes that have been blessed.  The ashes are traditionally made from the palm fronds used in the preceding year’s Palm Sunday. The day is often observed as a full fast day.  Ashes have a long traditional association with repentance in these traditions. Many other traditions have modified observance with sermons or other recognition of the holiday.

The holiday itself has its origins in the New Testament, which relates that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting before he began his ministry. While in the desert, Jesus withstood the temptations of Satan.

Pre-Lenten Festivities

Because the tradition of Lent is so somber, many Roman Catholic cultures have embraced a massive celebration on the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. This will take placein 2017 on Tuesday, February 28. Many of the festivities begin well before this date as well.

Brazilian Carnaval

The most significant celebration of the day, however, is not in the US at all, but is the Carnaval of Brazil.  The festival begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday (this year starting on February 24) and runs until Ash Wednesday begins. Most Brazilian cities hold a Carnaval celebration (as do Brazilian communities worldwide).  While Rio is, by far, the largest Brazilian Carnaval celebration, it is far from the only one. Most regions and major cities of Brazil have their own Carnaval, each with its own distinctive traditions. Carnaval in Brazil from 1641 with official status coming in 1724.

Carnaval of Rio

Elaborate floats are part of
the Rio Parade
The largest of the Brazilian celebrations is the Carnaval of Rio de Janeiro. It is claimed that the Rio Carnaval is the largest annual gathering of people in the world; although this claim is often disputed, it is unquestionably the largest annual gathering of people in South America. For example, the Rio Carnival annually attracts over 5 million people over 5 days, with between 2 and 2.3 million per day in the main streets. To put this in perspective, that same year, New Orleans' Mardi Gras hit a record for attendance of 1.2 million, about half that of the average Carnaval single-day street attendance, and roughly the number of just foreign-tourists alone at the Rio Carnaval.

Carnaval in Rio has a major impact on the city's -- and country's -- tourism revenues. In 2017 (the last year with full figures at the time of this blog), Brazil's government estimated that there were roughly 1.1 million foreign tourists (up from 977,000 in 2015 and just 400,000 in 2011), generating US $431.9 million in foreign tourism alone.

Nor is the economic impact simply limited to those watching. There are over competing samba schools at the Rio Carnaval. The samba schools spend US$ 5 million on the parade annually.

Elaborate costumes at the Rio Carnaval
The Carnaval of Rio is also one of the oldest pre-Lenten celebrations, taking place annually since 1641. The Rio Carnaval has at its core the so-called blocos or block parades tied to individual neighborhood blocks. Participants dress in elaborate costumes with a particular theme for each year. Blocos compose original music and dances which they combine with traditional songs and samba dances. Various samba schools prepare all year to compete in dance and music competitions, the most important of which are held at the 90,000-seat Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí for four consecutive nights from 8:00 PM until the following morning. The five winning samba schools then are allowed to parade on the Saturday following Ash Wednesday. 

São Paulo Carnaval

Samba competitors
at the Anhembi Sambodrome
The São Paulo Carnaval, like that in Rio, centers on samba competitions with annual themes. The São Paulo competitions usually last for two nights are held at the 30,000-seat Anhembi Sambodrome. 

The São Paulo Carnaval samba competition takes place on the Friday and Saturday before Lent. Since this occurs before Rio's Carnaval (on Sunday and Monday night), the timing allows attendance for both. 

While the Rio Carnaval may be Brazil's most famous and prestigious, the Säo Paulo Carnaval holds the world record for samba band people gathered in one spot. This took place at Republic Square in 2011 when 1,038 samba people gathered at one time for a massive performance.

Considered the "poor person's alternative" to Rio, the São Paulo Carnaval by design keeps ticket prices at events purposely low to all all Paulistanos to be able to afford attendance.

Trio Elétrico 
at the São Paulo Carnaval
The São Paulo Carnaval is additionally famous for the use of the trio elétrico (also called the carros alegóricos) which are huge floats or trucks. The trio elétrico is fitted out with sound systems which amplify the performances of the singers who stand on their roof. 

Bahian Carnaval

The trio elétrico is the central focus of Carnaval in the state of Bahia, and indeed it was in Bahia that the trio elétrico was first introduced.

 Juliana Ribeiro with Amor e Paixão's Carnival Trio
atop a trio elétrico at the Salvador Carnaval
The largest of the Carnavals in Bahia is in the city of Salvador, but most cities in the state have their own version. The festivities throughout the state last roughly for a week, each day going on for 16 hours. Salvador's Carnaval is primarily a Brazilian only event, with 600,000 tourists of whom only 10% are foreign.

The Bahian Carnaval has many elements that are quite separate from the Roman Catholic Church. These focus on the Afro-Brazilian afoxés who perform puxada do ijexá drumming that honors the orixás  (dieties of the Afro-Brazilian religions of Candomblé and  Santería). Because of the influence of the Afro-Brazilian religions, the music and dance of the Bahian Carnavals differs significantly from that of those in Rio and São Paulo, with significantly greater African influences.

Carnaval in Pernambuco

Throughout the state of Pernambuco, cities and towns hold there own variety of Carnavals. The two largest of these are the Recife and Olinda Carnavals. Pernambuco Carnavals also differ musically from the rest of Brazil. As in Bahia, the celebrations last a week; however, unlike Bahia (or Rio or  São Paulo), the Recife and Olinda Carnavals have no group competitions. The music played and dancing performed in Pernambuco is unique to the state.

Frevo dancer
There are two main varieties: the frevo and the maracatu. Frevo is an intense, fast-paced form that is supposed to make performers (and viewers) feel as if the ground beneath them is boiling (the word frevo has its origins in the Portuguese word ferver meaning “to boil”).  Frevo danccers are called passistas, and they are famous for their athleticism, their endurance and especially their acrobatic dance moves based on the Brazilian martial art of capoeira

The music of frevo has a polka-like element to it and is played largely by trumpets, trombones, tubas and saxophones accompanied by percussion.  

Maracatu de nação percussionists
Maracatu is actually the name of two dance forms unique to Pernambuco: maracatu de nação and the maracatu rural. Maracatu de nação (national maracatu) has its roots in the Brazilian slave community when slaves would crown “Kings of the Congo” as leaders within their communities. The accompanying investiture ceremony was heavily influenced by the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, and the influence of the dance and music continue to carry rich symbolism from that religion.  Maracatu de nação is primarily based on Afro-Brazilian drumming with groups of up to 100 percussionists performing.

Many of the percussions instruments used are unique to Pernambuco. One of the most notable is these is the afoxé, a gourd rattle with threaded beads. The Afro-Brazilian drums too are unique to the area. Among the most notable of these drums is the alfaia (sometimes simply called the (maracutu drum). Alfaias come in a variety of sizes, but all have roping along their sides that the drummers use to tighten or loosen the drum head to give differing pitches. Other special drums include caixa-de-guerra (“war snare-drum”) and the tarol (a somewhat thin snare drum). Additionally, percussionists use agbês (special gourds filled with beads), mineiros (metal tubes filled with dried seeds) and cowbells. The singing that accompanies maracatu de nação is a unique call-and-response form with a male caller and female chorus.

Caboclo de lança  
The maracatu rural more closely resembles the sort of music performed elsewhere in Brazil. It combines elements of the maracatu de nação with brass instruments (especially trombones) and musical styles from elsewhere in Brazil. The name means “maracutu of the countryside” because maracatu rural grew out of the countryside among sugar plantation workers.   Maracatu rural traditionally includes dancers in special costumes such as the caboclo de lança warrior.

Carnaval de Olinda 

The Carnaval de Olinda, the largest in Pernambuco, is cited by many in Brazil (especially those in Brazil's North and Interior) as the "real" Carnaval. While this can be easily debated, what is less subject to controversy is that the Olinda Carnaval is Brazil's most colorful.  It is also the only major Carnaval event in Brazil in which most of the major events take place during the daylight hours rather than in the evening.

Meeting of the Giant Puppets, Olinda
Annually, the Olinda Carnaval host 500 group with over 200 events.  The most famous Olinda Carnaval event is the "Meeting of the Giant Puppets." These are massive puppets standing about 3.5 meters (12 feet) tall. The giant puppets depict political figures, sports heroes and folk characters.

The Carnaval de Olinda averages 2.7 million visitors a year with annual revenues of around US $150 million, making it the most important economic event in the region.

Recife Carnaval

The Recife Carnaval holds the world record for the most people in a parade. The Guinness Book of World Records verified that in  2013, Recife's Galo da Madrugada parade reached 2.5 million participants (http://www.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,galo-da-madrugada-publico-estimado-de-2-5-milhoes,995344). The figure of 2.5 million participants actually marching in the parade is all the more staggering, considering that this was a million more people than the population of the entire city proper at the time (1.5 million).

Recife’s 2013 Galo da Madrugada parade
set the world record for most people in a parade   
While the 2013 record was remarkable, the annual influx of non-resident visitors at the Recife Carnaval is not. Indeed, even in the midst of the Zika outbreak, official estimates placed the number of non-resident visitors for the Recife Carnaval in 2016 at just under 1 million people.

As could be expected from the numbers attending, the centerpiece of the Recife Carnaval is its parade of the Galo da Madrugada (in English, "Rooster of the Early Hours"). That said, while the Recife Carnaval dates back for centuries, the first Galo da Madrugada took place only in 1978, a relative newcomer on the Brazilian Carnaval scene for such a major crowd generator. The parade is the culmination of an all-night party which concludes in the "early hours" of the next morning with the parade that follows a four-kilometer path through the center of the city.

 Recife's Noite dos Tambores Silenciosos
Although like other Pernambuco Carnavals, the Recife Carnaval does not host samba contest, Recife averages 3000 separate shows with 430 groups. Most unique to the Recife Carnaval is its strong emphasis on the Afro-Brazilian tradition. Chief among the events celebrating the Afro-Brazilian tradition is the Noite dos Tambores Silenciosos (Night of the Silent Drums) honoring the 1000’s of slaves who died in prisons before abolition. As midnight approaches, the drumming reaches a frenzy and then -- at the stroke of midnight -- stops abruptly and everyone in complete silence raises their hands at the same time to honor the martyrs of these sad chapter in Brazilian history.

Teresina's Carnaval holds the world record
for floats in a parade
Carnaval de Teresina

The Teresina Carnaval in the state of Piauí is a relative newcomer on the Brazilian Carnaval scene, beginning only in 1940.  The Carnaval de Teresina, though, like the Recife Carnaval, a record-holder in Guinness Book of World Records, in this case for the most number of floats in a parade. The Teresina Carnaval first set the record in February of 2012, a record it has maintained ever since (http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-parade-of-floats/). Guinness verified a total off 343 floats paraded in the Corso do Zé Pereira. The parade runs for 6-½ hours along a 7.3 kilometer (just over 4.5 mile) route.

Other Major Brazilian Carnavals

Virtually every city in Brazil holds some sort of Carnaval. Space does not permit listing all of these, but some of the other more notable ones include:

• Carnaval Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais one of oldest, with today’s giving great attention on college students
• Carnaval de Vitória/Carnaval Capixaba in Espírito Santo (one week before Rio), sadly the subject of attacks by gunmen shooting into the crowd this year in 2017
• Carnaval de Manaus in Amazonas, arguably as famous for its free entrance and reduced-price beer stalls as for its floats and samba
• Carnaval de Uberlândia/ Uberfolia in Uberlândia, Minas Gerais (which began as a Carnaval specifically for Afro-Brazilian samba dancers who were discriminated against in the early years of the Rio Carnaval
• Carnaval de Magia/Carnaval de Florianópolis in Santa Catarina features many beach celebrations, and most famously the LGBT-centered Praia Mole Carnaval

* Carnaval de Brasilia, the capital is not a major Carnaval center and yet this is a growing attacking, with over 1.5 million people participating in 2017 (and increase of 58% from 2016)

For more on the Brazilian Carnaval, see

United States: Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in New Orleans
The best known pre-Lenten celebration in the United States is the New Orleans' Mardi Gras.  In French, Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" and  evolved from the French tradition of indulging on the last day before Lent, particularly eating fatty things which traditionally would be given up for Lent.  

New Orleans Mardi Gras

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras activities run roughly for two weeks, culminating on Mardi Gras day. There are several local parades and a major central parade in which Carnival krewes parade on elaborate floats while wearing elaborate costumes. During the parade, participants throw special coins and necklaces of plastic beads to the spectators. Several special parades elect various monarchs. The most important of these are the Zulu King elected by the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the King of Carnival elected by the Rex Krewe. Several older Krewe kings were disbanded when they refused to comply with anti-segregation laws that the United States began to enforce in 1991.

Mardi Gras has been celebrated in Louisiana since at least 1699, with official New Orleans celebrations dating to 1703.

Mardi Gras is not limited to New Orleans, however, with other notable US Mardi Gras celebrations in other Louisiana cities. Lafayette's Mardi Gras in the center of Louisiana's Cajun cultural region is the state's second largest, attracting 250,000 people annually. Other notable Mardi Gras celebrations take place in  Baton Rouge, Houma, Shreveport, New Roads, Kaplan, Monroe, Thibadaux, Lake Charles, and Alexandria.

Several other cities in the United States hold well-attended Mardi Gras events outside of Louisiana as well. The oldest Mardi Gras after New Orleans in the United States is actually that held in Pensacola, Florida, which dates to 1874 The largest of these is in Mobile, Alabama. Vicksburg, Mississippi holds a major Mardi Gras Ball along with its annual parade. Eureka Springs in the Ozark region of Arkansas began holding Mardi Gras events after the destruction in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has continued the tradition ever since under the "Krewe of Krazo" (which is Ozark backwards). Other notable cities with Mardi Gras events include Portland, Oregon; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Saint Louis, Missouri; Port Arthur, Galveston and Austin, all in Texas.

For more about Mardi Gras, please see


The Caribbean: Trinidad Mas

Carnival celebrations are also held in many Caribbean islands. The most famous of these is the one held at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, with its associated steel drum competition. Carnival is celebrated as well elsewhere in the Caribbean including Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, Haiti, Belize, Cuba, St. Lucia, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Carnival celebrations are also held in some cities in Colombia and Honduras. The Caribbean communities of Notting Hill in London as well as those in Brooklyn, New York and Toronto, Ontario also celebrate an annual Caribbean Carnival.

While Carnival is celebrated to varying degrees throughout much of the Caribbean, the biggest of these celebrations is the Trinidad Carnival in Port-of-Spain. Trinidad Carnival begins in January and lasts until Ash Wednesday; in other words, the festivities can last for months. The entire festival climaxes with the week before Ash Wednesday with Dimanche Gras (Fat Sunday), J’Ouvert (also called Carnival Monday, with the name from the French Creole jour ouvert or break of dawn) and on Tuesday with Mas (short for “masquerade”).

Steel pan player
Trinidad Carnival has its own unique traditions. These include the famous steel pan competitions held in the weeks leading up to Dimanche Gras. Other music competitions include those in soca, calypso and rapso (the combination of rapping with calypso). Additionally, there are stickfighting and limbo competitions.
Man Feteing at Trinidad Mas

Throughout Trinidad Carnival spectators and performers alike are encourage to fête, that is to burst into a free-form revelry of dancing, singing or whatever else may be inspired.

The Trinidad Carnival hosts numerous competitions for parades, costumes and music. On Dimanche Gras, the Calypso King and Queen are chosen in a costume competition. They are then the central figure in their own special float in the following parades. J’Ouvert features people dressing in politically-barbed satiric costumes 

Jab Jabs
A J’Ouvert King and Queen are likewise chosen for the most politically astute commentary. J’Ouvert is also the day in which one sees running through the streets the famous “Jab-Jabs” (people dressed as red, blue and black devils with pitchforks).

Moko Jumbies
Mas itself is marked by the most elaborate of costumes, usually enhanced with body paint and intricate wire extensions as well as “Mas boots” which are worn both as decoration and to ensure comfort during the long marches of the parades. Among the most distinctive traditional characters depicted for Mas are the Moko Jumbies, stilt walkers representing protecting spirits (Moko was an African god whose worship was brought over by slaves and "jumbie" is Caribbean patois for ghost).  Other traditional characters are the Midnight Robber (who speaks in "Robber Talk" of exaggeratedly boastful claims), the Bookman (a devil with a book wearing special gown with a massive headmask with horns and a frightening stare) and various clowns and animals. Large cash prizes are awarded to winners on the central performance stage for best costume and music.

For more on the Trinidad celebrations, please see

India: Goa Carnival

The Indian state of Goa  also has annual celebrations for Carnival (also spelled interchangeably as Carnaval) throughout the state. Goa was a Portuguese colony through 1961 and  when the local cities and towns are taken over by the rule of the legendary King Momo. The largest of these is held in Panaji with a celebration that runs for three days and three nights.

Goa Carnival
The Goa Carnaval in 2013 begins on February 9 and runs through February 12. The Goa Carnaval has taken place annually for roughly 500 years, making it arguably the oldest annual Pre-Lenten celebration outside of Europe. For most of its 500-year-old history, the Goa Carnival was celebrated primarily by Goa's large Catholic population (who make up just under 30% of state's population). In recent years, however, the Goa Carnaval has become a major draw for tourists from all over India as well as an increasing number of tourist from abroad.

The Goa Carnaval was cancelled in 2012. Sadly, in that year the Great Carnival Parade to the city of Panaji (formerly Panjim) which was scheduled this year for Saturday February 18 was cancelled following a terrible accident earlier in the day in which a school bus fell into the Kalvi River killing eight people, including five children. To read more on this accident please see:

Other Carnival celebrations in 2012 did Goa did go on in the cities of Margoa, Ponda, Vasco and Mapusa.

The Goa Carnival parade at Goa's capitall city of  Panaji is by far the largest event. The parade usually runs for three or more hours Parades and feasts are also held in most other Goan cities. All of the events feature a mix of traditional feasts (usually centered on seafood), dancing and music. Panaji and several other locations hold firework displays as well. The music and dance of the Goan Carnival is unique to the state, blending influences of pre-Portuguese and post-Portuguese influences that over the centuries have blended tabla, ghumot and mridanga drums along with oboe-like shehnai mixed with Portuguese-style mandolins and violins. Dancing too is a blend of subcontinental and European styles. Sambas are particularly part of the celebratory dances.

Angolan Carnaval

As a former Portuguese colony, Angola in southwest Africa has a well-established Carnaval tradition, with the Luanda Carnaval in the capital city dating back to 1857.
Luanda Carnaval

Angola, in fact, has added much to the Portuguese traditions. This is because samba dancing, the mainstay of Brazil's Carnaval competitions, is actually taken from Angolan roots. The word samba with an "a" in Portuguese comes from the word semba with an "e" in the Angolan language of Kimbundu. Semba in Kimbundu means "to invoke the spirits of the ancestors" which was done through music and dance. The word semba itself comes from the verb masemba which means to touch bellies. Slaves taken from Angola to Brazil beginning in the early 1600's took their religious tradition with them. The semba/samba tradition evolved from there.

Cape Verde Carnaval

Carnaval de São Vicente, Cape Verde
Another former Portuguese colony with a Carnaval tradition is the West African island nation of Cape Verde (Cabo Verde in Portuguese).  Three of the country's 10 islands hold an annual Carnaval. 

The most dazzling of the Cape Verde Carnavals is in Mindelo on São Vicente but a strong competition exists with its main competitor in Rebeira Brava on São Nicolau. The saying goes that "São Vicente has the show while São Nicolau has the heart." That said, most attendees agree that the Carnaval de Praia in the capital is the smallest of the three. 

East Timor Carnaval

East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975 when it was taken over by Indonesia (which owns the
Dili Carnaval, East Timor
western half of the island). From 1975 until its independence from Indonesia in 2002, the Roman Catholic Portuguese tradition was suppressed by the Muslim-majority population. After independence, the country began to reach out to Brazil to rebuild its traditions. This resulted in the first state-sponsored Carnaval in 2008 in the capital Dili. The Carnaval has been growing ever since.  

Polish American Pączki Day and Polish Tłusty Czwartek

In Southeast Michigan, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Chicago and other areas with large Polish-American populations, Polish Americans celebrate “Pączki Day” after the Polish tradition of eating filled doughnuts called pączki. Pronounced “poonch-kee,” pączki are traditionally filled with prune, plum or rosehip jelly, though more modern interpretations include strawberry, apricot, raspberry, lemon and other jellies. A recipe for traditional pączki can be found at:


 Incidentally, pączki is the plural of the word, a single pastry is called a pączek 

Pączki Day is a major event for many local Polish-American communities. In Evanston, Illinois, an annual pączki-eating contest takes place to see who can eat the most of the pastries (with the contest held on the weekend closest to the appropriate Tuesday). Arguably the strongest tradition of celebrating Paczki Day is in the heavily Polish-American city of Hamtramck (a city with so strong a Polish tradition that the late Pope John Paul II even visited the city). For more on the Hamtramck Pączki Day, please see

While Pączki Day is celebrated in southeast Michigan, Chicago and Buffalo on the same Tuesday as Mardi Gras, the Polish equivalent in Poland itself is called Tłusty Czwartek actually means Fat Thursday. This is because in Poland itself, the celebration starts on the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday (February 7 for 2013) to leave enough of time to celebrate the Polish Karnawał (Carnival). Shrove Tuesday itself is marked not by eating pączki but rather herring and is sometimes called “Herring Day” or Śledzik.

Lithuania: Užgavėnės

Lašininis burnt in effigy 
The Lithuanian Pre-Lenten festival is know as Užgavėnės. The festival centers around a play battle enacted out by Lašininis (meaning "Fatso") who symbolizes winter and Kanapinis (or the Hemp Man) who stands for Spring. Kanapinis is always victorious and the battle concludes with Lašininis being burnt in effigy. Throughout the battle, people go through the crowds dressed as witches, ghosts and other characters.
Varškės spurgos 
The traditional treat for the holiday is a pancake alternately called sklindziai or blynai. Also popular are the fried cakes known as spurgos. Spurgos differ from their Polish pączki counterpart in that they may be filled not only with fruit (as in Poland) or made with no fruit but a cottage cheese dough for a dough only version known varškės spurgos. A recipe for varškės spurgos can be found at Celtnet Recipes at  http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/miscellaneous/fetch-recipe.php?rid=misc-varskes-spurgos

For more on Užgavėnės, please see http://lithuanianmha.org/holiday-traditions/uzgavenes/.

Italy: Carnevale and the Battle of the Oranges

Masks are the hallmark of the Carnevale of Venice

In Italy, the Carnevale of Venice technically begins on the Saturday before and ends on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. In reality, the Carnevale of Venice runs for weeks. It is a major celebration with masked parties, and is probably the oldest annual celebration of the season, having started in 1268. Roughly 3 million visitors descend on Venice each year for the celebration. Central to the Venice Carnevale are its elaborate masks and ach year, a competition takes place for the best mask.

You can read more about Carnivale on the official website at


Another famous Italian Carnival-related tradition takes place annually in the city of Ivrea with its “Battle of the Oranges.” Since the Middle Ages, the people of Ivrea have participated in a three-day pre-Lenten battle among its citizens.  For centuries, the combatants used beans, which changed in time to fruit and has been since the 19th century exclusively oranges. You can read more about the Battle of the
Oranges at  http://www.carnevalediivrea.it/english/battaglia.asp

Ivrea Battle of the Oranges

Belgium: Carnival of Binche

Many cities throughout Belgium have Carnival celebrations. These include those at the Walloon cities of La Calamine, Nivelles and Malmedy, the Flemish cities of Heist and Aalst, and the city of Eupen in the German-speaking region.  By far the most famous of these, though, is the Carnival of Binche, which was named a UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage Masterpiece in 2010.

Gilles at the Carnival of Binche
The Carnival of Binche dates to the 1300’s, making it among the oldest continuously held annual celebrations in Europe. Activities begin seven weeks before Carnival week and climax with the arrival of the Gilles on Shrove Tuesday. Roughly 1000 boys and men parade through the streets in the costume of a Gille: linen suits in the Belgian national colors with hunchbacks stuffed with straw, elaborate white lace cuffs and collars, bells hanging from their belts, wooden clogs (called sabots) and wax masks. Some also wear feathered hats. The Gilles carry ramons – special branches for warding off evil spirits. The appearance of the Gilles begins at 4:00 AM and lasts most of the day. In the morning they parade to the town all. In the afternoon, the Gilles remove their masks and parade through the city carrying ramon branch baskets filled with blood oranges that they throw at the spectators.

For more on the Carnival of Binche please see

German Catholic Regions:  Fasching and Karneval

Several pre-Lenten traditions are carried on the the Catholic German-speaking regions. Technically, what the Germans call the "silly season" (die närrische Saison) begins on 11-11 at 11:11 AM, the celebrations being in earnest only after Epiphany (January 6) and intensify in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. 

What's in A Name: Fasching? Karneval?

The name of the silly season's main event varies from region to region thoughout the German-speaking world.

In much of the southern German-speaking regions, the Alemannic German term Fasching or some variation of the word  is used to denote the Carnival season.  Fasching is actually the word used in Austria, Bavaria and Berlin. In Baden, the Alsace region of France, most of the German cantons of Switzerland as well as the Amish and Mennonite communities in the United States, people call the celebration Fastnacht or Fasnacht. In Franconia as well as in the city of Mainz, people use the word Fosnat or Fasenacht, while in Swabia people call the same holiday Fasnet. In Luxembourg, the holiday is known as Fuesend.

In much of the north, the Latin-based word Karneval is used. Karneval is the name of the holiday in Cologne, which is the largest Carnival-related event in Europe. Karneval is also the name used in the Rheinland and the Pfalz. This is also term for the major carnival cities of Bonn, Düsseldorf, Eschweil and Aachen.

Finally, in Brandenburg and Saxony, the names Fasching and Karneval are typically used interchangeably.

Kölner Karneval

The Kölner Karneval or Cologne Carnival is the largest Carnival gathering not only in Germany, but in the whole of Europe. Unlike most other carnivals worldwide, the central culmination of the Kölner Karneval comes not on Fat Tuesday(Weiberfastnacht), but rather on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. This is called Rosenmontag or Rose Monday and consists of major parades, parties and notably major stage events and performances.

Die Dreigistirn
Each year at the  Kölner Karneval, three Dreigestirn are named. The Dreigestirn form the Karneval royalty and are comprised of the Jungfrau (Young Woman or Virgin and called "Her Loveliness"), the Prinz (Prince, called "His Craziness") and the Bauer (the Farmer, called Seine Deftigkeit or "His Hugeness" which refers to being hefty in size but in impolite terms has a ribald connotation). All three people are always men, including the Jungfrau who is a man dressed as a woman (the only exception being during the Nazi era, where the authorities intolerance of homosexuality outlawed the cross-dressing).

For more on the German celebrations, see


Luxembourg: Fuesend and Karneval

In Luxembourg, the pre-Lenten holiday season is known as Fuesend.  Throughout the Grand-Duchy, parades and parties are held on the Tuesday before Lent begins. 

The commune of Pétange is the home of the Grand-Duchy's largest pre-Lenten Karneval celebration. Annually hosting a calvalcade with roughly 1200 participants and thousand of participants, the official name is Karneval Gemeng Péiteng or Kagepe (the initials in Luxembourgish are pronounced Ka, Ge and Pe).

The Stréimännchen over the Remich Bridge
The town of Remich holds a three-day-long celebration. Remich is notable for two special events in addition to its parades. The first of these is the Stréimännchen, which is the burning of a male effigy from the Remich bridge that crosses the Moselle River separating the Grand Duchy from Germany. The Stréimännchen symbolizes the burning away of winter. The other special event at the Remich Fuesend celebrations is the Buergbrennen or bonfire that closes the celebration.

Like Remich, the town of Esch-sur-Alzette also holds a three-day celebration.  Other major Fuesend parades in Luxembourg are held in the towns of Diekirch and Differdange.

Greece: Greek Orthodox Celebrations

As noted above, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Ash Wednesday is not observed. Instead, Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Clean Monday as the start of what is called Great Lent (the equivalent holiday but so-named to differentiate the holiday from another observance called Winter Lent which corresponds to the Western tradition of Advent).  

Greek Orthodox adherents began celebrating Greek Orthodox Carnival with Triodion (which began in 2017 on February 5) and ending on Clean Monday, February 27).   The largest of the celebrations is Tsiknopempti or "Burnt Thursday" which in 2017 was on February 16 with two weekends of Carnival the Tsiknopempti Weekend (February 17-19) and the Greek Carnival Weekend February 24-26).  Annually, the largest Greek Orthodox celebration of Carnival is centered at Patras, Greece’s third largest city. The Carnival at Patras often reflects current social themes, and is at times used as an outlet for social protest in some years. In other years, there is no social statement at all.

Patras Children's Carnival
In all years, though, the Patras Carnival includes a separate “Children’s Carnival”  with thousands of costumed children on parade through the streets.

Bourboulia domino robes and masks
Another unique feature of the Patras Carnival is the Bourboulia, a formal ball in which women come in identical costumes – the so-called domino robes and masks – and ask men, usually uncostumed, to dance with them without their dance partner knowing who is behind the disguise. Other Greek sites also have Carnival celebrations, including annual celebrations on the islands of Corfu and of Crete. To learn more about Greek Carnival traditions see

For more specifically on  the Patras Carnival, you can go to their official website at:


There are many more Carnival-related celebrations around the world. Feel free to share some of your own, or to add to what has been shared here.

As for the religious aspects of Ash Wednesday and the related observances, as always, this post is meant only to be informational. Please share your own views, and note that this post in no way indicates a point of view on what is or is not appropriate religious observance.

Further Reading:

For more on some of the general religious traditions, here are a few websites:

For Roman Catholic traditions, see
For Eastern Orthodox traditions see

For Coptic Lent traditions, see

For Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo traditions, see

 Clip Art Sources

Praying woman with ashen cross on forehead: http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Ash_Wednesday.htm

Lent image: Christ the King Anglican Church, Lansing, Michigan: http://ctklansing.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/lent-new.jpg

Priest placing ashen cross on worshiper's forehead: Life Assays: http://bobritzema.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/ash-wednesday.jpg

Carnival cartoon clipart: Clip Art Today: http://www.clipartoday.com/_thumbs/022/Celebrations/annual_carnival_188328_tnb.png

Rio parade with King Kong: http://blog.otel.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Rio-Carnaval.jpg

Rio Carnaval elaborate costume: Travelvivi.com http://www.travelvivi.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/rio_carnival06.jpg

Samba competitors at the Anhembi Sambodrome: Sydney Morning Herald:

Trio Elétrico at the São Paulo Carnaval: http://im.r7.com/outros/files/2C92/94A4/2E64/8A75/012E/7830/7A6E/725D/carna%201-tl-201100302.jpg

Juliana Ribeiro with Amor e Paixão's Carnival Trio: http://www.bahia-online.net/Carnival.htm

Afoxé: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afoxé

Alfaias: http://www.brasilcultura.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/afoxes10.jpg

Frevo dancer: Está com tudo blogsite: http://estacomtudo.blogspot.com/2010/11/frevo_12.html

Maracatu de nação percussionists: Oficina do Barulho: http://www.oficinadobarulho.com/images/camale_o.jpg

Meeting of the Giant Puppets, Olinda: http://laprensa-sandiego.org/featured/brazilian-northeast-celebrates-carnival-the-old-fashioned-way/

Recife’s 2013 Galo da Madrugada parade set the world record for most people in a parade: http://fotografia.folha.uol.com.br/galerias/13608-bloco-galo-da-madrugada-em-recife

Teresina's Carnaval hold the world record for floats in a parade: http://www.jfagora.com/qual-melhor-ze-pereira-de-teresina-timon-ou-o-de-jose-de-freitas.html

Steel drum player: http://serturista.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Theaterspektakel_2010_2010-09-04_19-02-50.jpg

Man Feteing in Trinidad: Feteing in Trindad, How to Play Mas: http://www.rishisankar.com/Parties/Trinidad-Carnival-2005/Carnival-Tuesday-2005-23rd/S3600163/202578866_XhHuH-XL.jpg

Jab Jabs: http://www.tntisland.com/carnivalcharacters.html

Moko Jumbies: http://www.tntisland.com/carnivalcharacters.html

Map of Goa: http://www.jigneshbapna.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/goa-map.gif

Goa Carnival: http://www.carnivalgoa.com/

Carnaval de São Vicente, Cape Verde: http://www.caboverdesite.com/city/sao-vicente/sobre-a-ilha/ilha-de-sao-vicente/

Dili Carnaval, East Timor: http://noticias.sapo.tl/portugues/foto/1299406/

Lašininis burnt in effigyhttp://lithuanianmha.org/holiday-traditions/uzgavenes/

Varškės spurgos: http://laisvalaikisvirtuveje.blogspot.com/2012/01/varskes-spurgos-su-obuoliu-idaru.html

Venice Carnevale masks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Venice_Carnival_-_Masked_Lovers_(2010).jpg

Ivrea Battle of the Oranges: The World's Dirtiest Festivals:  http://jetsetta.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Battle-of-the-Oranges-Ivrea-Italy.jpg

Gilles at the Carnival of Binche: Photograph by Marie-Claire http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Binche_-_Les_Gilles.jpg

Die Dreigistirn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dreigestirn_72.jpg

The Stréimännchen over the Remich Bridge: http://www.lequotidien.lu/le-pays/42292.html

Patras Children's Carnival: http://www.1000lonelyplaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/childrens-carnival1.jpg

Bourboulia domino robes and masks: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/el/7/79/Bourboulia_6.jpg