Where does the word “carnival” come from and What does carnival mean?

The real meaning of the word “carnival” is “the putting away of flesh (as food),” for it comes, through Italian, from the Latin carnem, flesh, and levare, to put away.

Originally it pertained to the day preceding the beginning of Lent, to the last day when, for a period of forty days, one would again be permitted to eat meat, to the French Mardi Bras and to the English “Shrove Tuesday.”

This was, therefore, a day of feasting and revelry.

In some countries, especially during the Middle Ages, the period of riotous amusement began on the previous Sunday and extended through Tuesday, some places it lasted a week, and in England a general period of festivity and entertainment began the day after “Twelfth Day,” January 6, and lasted through Shrove Tuesday.

But, three and a half centuries ago, carnival began to be used as a term to denote any period or occasion for gay festivity, revelry, or riotous sport, and the modern affair rarely has any connection now with the Lenten period or abstinence from meat.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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