Carnival 101 — The What, The Why and The Get Ready


What is Carnival ?

Carnival is a festive season which occurs immediately before the Christian liturgical season of Lent;  [Some Carnivals like Crop Over, occur in the summer because of the Harvest season or were moved to increase attendance] Carnival typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, mask and public street party. People often dress up in masks during the celebrations, which is an overturning of the normal things of everyday life.


Photo Credit: Ruth Tesfai

Where did the word Carnival come from?

Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which means “to put away the meat.” As time passed, carnivals in Italy became quite famous; and in fact the practice spread to France, Spain, and all the Catholic countries in Europe.

Where is Carnival ?

Carnival is happening every month, all over the world. Please check out our International Carnival Calendar for the next one.


What is a Masquerader?

A Masquerader is often a participant of the parade. This masquerader will be dressed in carnival wear during the celebratory street party.

What is Jouvert?

J’ouvert is a large street party during Carnival. Traditionally, J’ouvert happens carnival morning prior to the parade. Participants celebrate with flutes and conch shells while wearing moco jumbie outfits. Paint, oil, mud and powder are also part of the tradition. Since the inception of j’ouvert, it has taken on a space of its own, often times promoters will have “paint” parties outside of the carnival season.

How do I dress for J’ouvert?

Ideally, you should wear clothes that you can get dirty in — for when they throw paint, mud or powder on you. Some participants protect their hair with a shower cap and scarf. Most of the elements wash off easily but extra measures can be taken.

What is “Playing Mas”?

Playing mas is the term often referencing a person participating in the parade. i.e. (I am playing mas with Tribe this year or I am playing mas in Trinidad this year) The translation is, I will be participating in the carnival with a costume in Trinidad this year.

What kind of music is played at Carnival ?

Soca music is the dominant genre played during carnival with some dancehall, hip hop and afrobeats sprinkled in. Use music streaming apps like Soundcloud and Youtube to find the latest.

How long does Carnival last?

The carnival events typically last a month or two prior to the actual parade. The parade itself varies depending on where it is being held but on average can be anywhere from 6 to 12 hours


How Do I Get A (Outfit) Costume?

A carnival costume is acquired by registering with a band. You must first find out the bands in the location you plan to play mas, then register, pay for your costume and you will be playing mas come carnival day. Some bands are more exclusive than others and tend to be a bit more difficult to get into. But overall, the process is pretty easy.

What is the difference between Backline and Frontline?

Frontline tends to be a fully loaded costume with a backpack, collar, headpiece, leg pieces or whatever the designer intends. Backline is a more toned down option of the costume. There is an option for upgrades on feathers and additional pieces. Some bands offer a Midline section which is the middle ground of both sections.

See this example.

After I buy my costume, do they ship it to me?

After registering for your costume, you will pick it up closer to the time of carnival — typically a week or so before the actual parade. The costume band will email you with all the information you need regarding your pickup schedule.

Where do I get Carnival Accessories?

Check out a list of carnival vendors here

Any other questions? Leave a comment, we’ll add them!

Yours in Mas


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