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10 Wild Facts and Customs About Carnival

10 Wild Carnival Mardi Gras Facts and Customs

10 Wild Carnival Mardi Gras Facts and Customs
PHOTO BY SILVIA BIANCHINI/ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Here's everything you need to know about the wild side of Carnival and Mardi Gras.

(CNN) -- Ash Wednesday is today, so you know what that means.

Carnival celebrations for 2023 are in full force around the world. It's a time when people -- particularly those in areas with strong Roman Catholic traditions -- indulge their wild side before the solemn, introspective days of Lent commence.

With so many participants (more than a million in some cities) and so many different celebration spots (from the Americas to Asia), there's bound to be a lot of fascinating tidbits to uncover surrounding Carnival.

To go with the party vibe, here are some wild Carnival facts, figures and customs:

A $1 billion party -- well, almost

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

PHOTO BY CELSO PUPO/SHUTTERSTOCK

The world's biggest annual Carnival, held in Rio de Janeiro, naturally generates a lot of economic activity for Brazil. But the expected amount for 2023 is positively eye-popping, according to a report from Reuters.

"We believe the economy will generate five billion reais ($971.55 million) during Carnival alone, a record," Ronnie Aguiar, the president of the Rio Tourism Company (Riotur), recently told the news agency.

That's what the power of roughly 5 million people freely spending after pandemic restrictions will do for you.

After a two-year hiatus, around 80,000 tourists from abroad are expected to show up for 2023, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The comeback kid

Venice canal

Venice canal

PHOTO BY SILVIA BIANCHINI/ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

The Venice Carnival began in 1162 as a military celebration. From there, it morphed into good ol' party time -- until 1797.

That's when dour Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, put the kibosh on the revelries (Austrians had just started calling the shots in Venice at the time). He also banned Venetians from wearing masks. Talk about a party pooper.

During the 19th century, Venetians tried to jump-start a big public gathering, but they were able to muster only small, private fêtes.

Then in the height of the Disco Era, the Italian government came to the party-time rescue. It helped Venice relaunch Carnival in 1979. It's now grown into one of the world's most renowned, complete with grand masked balls and flotillas in the canals.

No hiding the cost of a high-end mask

Venice masks

Venice masks

PHOTO BY PITRS/ADOBE STOCK

Speaking of masks, the Venice Carnival is famous for its mysterious and fancy face coverings. And the nicer ones can cost you quite a few euros.

Some high-end Venice masks go for €400 (about $425) or even more. That's a lot to pay to be stylishly incognito, but they provide a classic keepsake.

Bombarded by beads

Beads of New Orleans

Beads of New Orleans

PHOTO BY JOEL CARILLET/ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

What masks are to Venice, beads are to New Orleans.

The throwing of beads and other trinkets to the crowds during Mardi Gras was started in the early 1870s. In fact, they're called throws.

How many are tossed out? Tons of them. Literally.

A few years back, cleaning crews removed a whopping 93,000 pounds on a five-block stretch of St. Charles Avenue downtown from clogged storm drains. That works out to 46.5 tons.

New Orleans has since installed "gutter buddies" to prevent beads from entering the drains.

Egging people on

Masked marcher at Sydney Mardi Gras

Masked marcher at Sydney Mardi Gras

PHOTO BY DONALD PADGETT

In the small Spanish Mediterranean port city of Águilas, they're also into throwing stuff. Here, it's eggs -- but they're not filled with yolks.

Months before Carnival, locals collect eggshells, then paint them or cover them in striking colors and fill them with confetti. In Spanish, it's called cascarones de confeti.

They're used in a battle in which Don Carnal, who represents the Roman god Janus, is at war with Doña Cuaresma (Mrs. Lent). Don Carnal always loses.

Flour power

Flour puffs

Flour puffs

PHOTO BY AERIAL-DRONE/ADOBE STOCK

Geez -- there really is something about Carnival and throwing things.

In the little Greek harbor town of Galaxidi, what they toss is a whole lot softer than beads and less elaborate than confetti-filled eggs.

Each year, the town and the townspeople get covered in colored flour, which is thrown on locals and tourists alike. You might want to bring some protective eyewear if you attend. Check out the madness in this YouTube video.

Gotta go to Goa

Tiwi Island Sistagirls march in Sydney Mardi Gras

Tiwi Island Sistagirls march in Sydney Mardi Gras

PHOTO BY DONALD PADGETT

India definitely knows how to throw a celebration -- Diwali and Holi anyone?

While exporting those to the world, Indians are also making their unique contribution to Carnival in Goa, which was a Portuguese -- and therefore Catholic -- colony for centuries.

The Goa Carnival is full of the usual parades, colorful costumes and elaborate floats, but the Carnival here mixes with local Goan culture and Hindu traditions.

In one old Goa Carnival tradition, people throw their old utensils out of their kitchen windows when the parade passes. Another is when people get into playful fights throwing colorful powders at each other, similar to the Holi Festival.

YouTuber Heena Bhatia captured parade scenes from the 2022 Carnival on her channel.

With a little help from your friends

Carnival paraders in Rio de Janeiro

Carnival participants in Rio de Janeiro

Back in Rio, they're definitely enjoying all things samba, but they also shake it up, baby.

Turns out Brazilian-beat Beatles songs are the rage at one of the many Rio street parties known as blocos. There are more than 500 blocos, according to Carnivaland.net.

At Aterro do Flamengo (Flamingo Park), the Sargento Pimento party is dedicated to playing Beatles music.

Catch a very fitting "Here Comes the Sun" from 2013 on YouTube.

Puppet show

Puppets of Carnival in Olinda, Brazil

Puppets of Carnival in Olinda, Brazil

PHOTO BY SILVIA BIANCHINI/ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Rio ain't the only game in Brazil when it comes to Carnival. A favorite among Brazilians is the Recife & Olinda Carnival. Fewer tourists show up, so if you're looking for true local flavor, the mutual party thrown by these two northeastern coastal cities could be for you.

And don't miss the bonecos, giant papier-mache puppets, in Olinda. They are up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) tall and are paraded through the streets.

Olinda concentrates on daytime events, while the nighttime is the right time for Recife.

And the band played on

No shrimps on these barbies at the Sydney Mardi Gras down under

No shrimps on these barbies at the Sydney Mardi Gras down under

PHOTO BY FIMINA ANNA/SHUTTERSTOCK

In the Caribbean's Trinidad and Tobago, you can sit back and watch and listen. Or you can join in. It's called playing mas, according to online experts Carnivaland.net.

To play mas, you have to join a masquerade band, but you just can't show up. You must first pick out a mas band you'd like to be a part of and don their costumes (some are sexy, some are more conservative).

Joining a mas band isn't free, but some are all inclusive, providing your costume, food and drinks, bathroom areas and more.

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