This year, around Feb. 21 or so, a select group of Americans will occupy their time by buying cheap plastic beads from local Walmarts; some of them will distribute said beads in a crowded street while consuming gross amounts of tepid alcohol, and still others will be photographed baring their naked chests in public in exchange for those very same Walmart beads. Here in the U.S. we call this tradition Mardi Gras, and we rightly believe it to be a most impressive demonstration of partying.
But in the rest of the world, right around the same time of year, they have a little ritual called Carnival… and one quick YouTube search of this globally celebrated holiday (more like holi-season) will put the drunkest, bead-strangled Mardi Gras-goer to shame (that is, of course, if they’re not ashamed of their behavior already). Carnival in other countries is to Mardi Gras as a huge, seven-century (or older), multinational, monthlong (or longer), highly organized, chaotic blitzkrieg of a celebration is… to Mardi Gras.
The most well-known of Carnivals takes place in Brazil, specifically Rio de Janeiro, held every year the weekend before Ash Wednesday. And though the Brazilian festival is the biggest of its kind, drawing upward of 750,000 people to Rio alone, it is certainly not the only one. There are variations of Carnival in more than 50 countries (including the United States), and we have assembled 10 of the best and/or most intriguing of them. They each have quirks and particularities, from masks and traditions of kissing strangers to the rich pre-Lent foods and drinks served across the globe. Keep in mind that there are some people who prepare for Carnival year-round, so if you’re planning on checking out one of these fests, it’s recommended to get started early.