By Julie R Butler
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is famous the world over. But did you know that Mexico has some major Carnival celebrations of its own, and that one of them is considered by many to be the second most important in all of Latin America? ¡Es la neta! The city of Veracruz holds the largest Carnival celebration in Mexico. It’s spread out over nine days. And it’s billed as “El Más Alegre del Mundo.”
Photo by Saulo ren, CC BY-SA 4.0
As a major port city on the Gulf of Mexico, and the place where Cortez first arrived at the American continent and the first city to be established by the Spanish in Mexico, Veracruz has a long and interesting cultural heritage that includes Afro-Caribbean influences as well as an indigenous legacy that’s unique to the region. It was founded in 1519; and in 2019, los jarochos celebrated their city’s 500th-year anniversary with the extravagance it deserves.
According to the official website for Carnaval de Veracruz 2020, this year’s celebration will be in its 96th year, and the theme will be “Iconic Cities of the World.”
Opening & Closing Carnival: Satire, Parody, and Upending All the Rules
Although the official dates of Carnival in Veracruz are 19-25 February, the festival atmosphere sets in on Sunday, 16 February, with Solteras vs Casadas. It’s a baseball game played on the beach by men dressed in drag and other colorful costumes that draws over a thousand spectators every year.
La Quema del Mal Humor on Wednesday 19 February signals the official start of the festivities. During this traditional Carnival event, an effigy of some hated person is burned. The effigy represents the bad vibes that are dispensed with to make sure there’s nothing but buenas ondas during the festival season.
To close things out, there’s el Entierro de Juan Carnaval, a parody funeral performed by a local theater group with the royal court that was elected that year playing it up by melodramatically mourning and crying over the end of the desmadre, making way for the beginning of Lent.
Carnival Parades, Balls, and Concerts: Rhythm in the Streets
Sandwiched between those events are the meat of Carnival: the parades!
Los gran desfiles are filled with comparsas (carnival performing groups), drumlines, baton twirlers, dance troupes, huge sculptures, and floats, including those carrying the members of the royal court. Dances, mojigangas (masquerades), and huge concerts also fill the city with music, movement, and merriment.
Photo by Gladys Almeida, CC BY-SA 3.0
Of particular note at Carnaval de Veracruz are the sounds of el danzón, a Caribbean music genre that was instrumental in the development of the mambo and the cha-cha-chá. Harps, marimbas, and guitars highlight the Afro-Cuban roots of jarocho culture as couples dance to the slow, syncopated beat.
But Is Carnaval de Veracruz Really the Happiest Carnival in the World?
In case you’re probably wondering if Carnaval de Veracruz is really the happiest Carnival in the World, I’m here to tell you that it sure feels like it when you’re right there, in the midst of it, absorbing all the colors and rhythms and energy of the performers and crowds, ¡pasandola a toda madre!