Come to the Carnival

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During England, in all the seaside towns and in many inland towns also, the hot summer months of June, July and August are the sign for carnival time. England may not be able to match all the riotous grandeur of Rio or Jamaica, but what English country and seaside carnivals lack in all that jazz and color they more than make up for in warmth and enthusiasm.

A carnival is a public festival or occasion characterized by street processions, a lot of dressing up in fancy and colourful costumes and made merry with plenty of singing and dancing. The origins of these jolly celebrations go back in the pagan mists of history and seem to be recorded in ancient Greece when the celebrations were all in honour of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Wildlife Removal Port St Lucie

The Romans enjoyed the idea so much that when they picked up the baton of progressing world civilization they turned the whole thing into their own Bacchanalia. It was still a heathen celebration, dedicated today to Bacchus their god of plant and beverage. And it remained the perfect excuse for a rip-roaring booze up.

At precisely the exact same time the ruling elite were shrewd enough to understand that the great number of slaves and the reduced masses needed an occasional ways to let off steam and go wild without actually blowing into a full scale rebellion. So a couple of refinements were added, such as allowing people to dress up, wear masks to escape recognition and even play role reversal. For the duration of the festival the general populace could ape their betters and eliminate it. Everything and anything was tolerated.

The Bacchanalia became the Saturnalia, which literally means the surplus of the senses. Nothing was sacred and nothing was forbidden, and in the end of it we can only assume that the revellers were exhausted and the hangovers so enormous that they went meekly back to being slaves .

The Saturnalia could no longer be tolerated simply as a drunken orgy and thus it had to be modified and changed again. The lower orders still had an annual relaxing of the rules to celebrate and so the more acceptable aspects like the masked play acting, the feasting and parades and the street party atmosphere were kept. They were incorporated instead into the new Christian festival of Lent.

From the Christian Church Lent is the penitential preparation of the weeks leading up to Easter, and also an imitation of Christ wandering and fasting in the wilderness. It must have taken quite a feat of imagination to turn a fast into a festival, but of course there is both a beginning and an end to a period of fasting, and either can be the trigger for casting aside all of the restraints.

The Tuesday before the fasting started was known as Fat Tuesday, it was the last opportunity to stuff yourself and over-indulge in food and drink before the long fast started. Fat Tuesday translates from the words Mardi Gras. The European settlers who colonized the Americas took the phrase with them. Hence those amazing carnivals in Rio, Jamaica and Trinidad all now infused with the warmth and colors as well as the rhythmic drum beats of tropical Africa.

It has come full circle with the Notting Hill Carnival in London, an exotic taste of the Caribbean which can attract a million people.

However, since the country has become more secular the actual essence of carnival has become separated from its Christian links. It appears that February is too cold and the weather too inclement. The dates have moved ahead to those warmer months of the year when we can really enjoy them.

Plus there were a variety of fairs, festivals and designated family fun days that were carnivals in all but the title. The carnival spirit has become a community event and is alive and well. From the lakes and broads of England the carnival is now a waterborne regatta.

It was impossible to attend them all but I made an exception for the Lavenham Carnival and Rare Breeds Motor Show. That title seemed to include it all, plus it was advertised as having a Medieval Theme and you can’t imagine a more appropriate background for the middle ages than this charming old wool town.

It’s a town of overhanging black and white timbers and pastel pretty colour washes where more than 300 of these pantomime background structures are listed buildings. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Golden Age of Wool in East Anglia, many of these were weavers’ cottages. The more elaborate were retailer’s homes or guildhalls and Lavenham was one of the most prosperous towns in East Anglia.

The carnival parade began from the mediaeval market square before the most magnificent Tudor building of all of them, the early black and white Holy Trinity Guildhall. A group of women in Tudor costumes entertained the crowds with a display of mediaeval dancing, before lining up behind the Glen Morrison Pipe and Drum band for the procession into the carnival showground. Behind them trailed knights and bishops, jesters and jugglers, many of them children all in full costume.

I had picked my camera channel where they switched from the top of Church Street into Bridge End Road on the last lap up to the showground. With kilts swirling and the pipes skirling the Highlanders made a splendid picture as they turned facing the soaring flint tower of the magnificent Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

The procession turned into the crowded showground and then paraded around the middle ring. Finally there was judging and the introducing of the prizes for the best conceived costumes. The Pipe and Drum Band strutted their stuff again, marching to the glorious tunes of Scotland the Brave and other Highland classics.

Falcons are used for hunting since the middle ages and have been trained to always return to their handler’s well protected wrist.

There was a costumed side-by-side screen, with elegant gentlemen and ladies in period dress putting their gloss dressed horses through their prancing paces, an equestrian event being an almost mandatory presentation at any genuinely English nation collecting. There was also a parade of legacy cows and sheep, the latter especially appropriate as the so-called Golden Fleece had always been the prime source of wealth during Lavenham’s heritage golden era.

To bring the mood nearer to the modern day there was also a fantastic collection of classic automobiles on parade from the Lavenham Press Rare Breeds Motor Show. Around 450 of those glorious vintage vehicles were constructed, all restored and polished to perfection, their chrome glass and paintwork gleaming in sunlight. Each one made a slow turn around the parade ground and the series seemed to roll on for ever.

There was a fun fair for the kids, trade stalls to the mums, side shows and amusement along with a tea tent and pub. The bar was well populated but this was no Dionysian orgy. Ale appeared more preferable to wine and its consumption was cheerful and controlled. The mood was happy and relaxed with everyone enjoying the hot August sunshine. It was the perfect bank holiday weekend.

The spirit of carnival has lost some of its wild side in its refinement down the centuries, but what remains is well worth pursuing. It’s a fantastic family day out with something for everybody. This year they’ll do it again, at Lavenham and all the other towns and villages where carnival has become an annual event.

Watch the local media for the times and the dates. There’s sure to be a carnival somewhere near wherever you go in England.

In the words of the song,”Come to the Carnival.”

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