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Carnival was cancelled…..long live Carnival?

Carnival was very different this year. Instead of the world’s biggest party spilling out onto the streets of Rio and New Orleans, Covid-19 meant cancelled or postponed celebrations around the world.

Carnival had already been hit in many places in 2020, with the emergence of the virus in northern Italy in February 2020 leading to Venice Carnival being cancelled. In many other areas of Europe Carnival continued, but it later emerged as a ‘super-spreader’ event, which boosted transmission of Covid-19 in popular Carnival regions in the Netherlands and Germany. One Dutch study showed that in regions of the country where Carnival is celebrated, hospitalisations with Covid-19 increased substantially compared with non-Carnival regions about one week after Carnival. These dramatic effects were enough for most Carnival celebrations to be cancelled or postponed around the world in 2021.

One of the results of the widespread ban on Carnival was a resurgence in grassroots creativity. Robbed of opportunities to party in public, people devised ways to interact online, or organised small-scale gatherings at home. In some cities creative solutions were found to create at least some carnival atmosphere. In the German city of Cologne, the Rose Monday parade was still held, but featured puppets instead of people. Carnival bands also used drive-in theatres to perform their music. In New Orleans, houses were decorated as floats to replace cancelled parades. The ‘house-float’ event even kicked off a Hire a Mardi Gras Artist campaign, which crowdfunded to employ carnival artists to decorate the houses, generating much-needed income for the creative sector. The initiative also included a map of house float locations to guide hardy Carnival goers. These examples show that the spirit of Carnival is hard to dampen, and creativity will shine through. The different ways in which people have celebrated Carnival, and what they have missed about the event, is the subject of an international study currently being carried out by members of the ATLAS Events Group.

In fact, this is not the first time Carnival has been cancelled. The Rio Carnival was suspended in 1915–18 and 1940–45, and the Düsseldorf parades were cancelled during the Gulf War in 1991 and because of a storm in 2016. A fascinating study by Alan Faber do Nascimento of the Rio Carnival in wake of the Spanish Flu pandemic shows that Carnival 1919 acted as a springboard for subsequent expansion of the event as an international tourist landmark. This study holds out hope that Carnival will not only survive, but may even come back more strongly in 2022.

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