It’s that season of the year: the Carnival. Long before the advent of Christianity, people held celebrations at this time of year. In Germany, they once looked forward to sending Hel, the goddess of the underworld, back down to her abode so they could herald the coming of the spring. In Greece, it was a time to worship the god Dionysus and celebrate one’s sexual nature.
With the arrival of Christianity, the celebrations continued, but changed in nature, gradually becoming more and more linked to the new religion. The Carnival is held in the period before the start of Lent, and Lent is the time when good Christians were supposed to fast, to abstain from meat. It is this that has given us the word we use today.
English took the word from French, where it was carnaval. This in turn came from Italian carnevale, which developed from older Italian dialects, where it may have been carnelevare or carnelevale. This quite literally means “lifting flesh”, and was used in the sense of lifting the flesh, or the meat, away; removing the meat.
It comes from a combination of Latin caro, meaning ‘flesh’ and levare, meaning ‘lift, raise, remove’. And what better time to use this word than when neat was supposed to be removed? Or at the very least, in the period before that time. Gradually, the word took on the sense of the season of celebration rather than being related to the coming fast.
To celebrate the Carnival, I have written a book for pre-teens, continuing the adventures of Lucy Evans and expanding on the theme of experiencing other cultures and traditions from within