[ kahr-nuh-vuhl ]
/ ˈkɑr nə vəl /
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See synonyms for: carnival / carnivalesque on Thesaurus.com

a traveling amusement show, having sideshows, rides, etc.
any merrymaking, revelry, or festival, as a program of sports or entertainment: a winter carnival.
the season immediately preceding Lent, often observed with merrymaking; Shrovetide.


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Origin of carnival

1540–50; <Italian carnevale,Old Italian carnelevare taking meat away, equivalent to carne flesh (<Latin carnem, accusative of caro) + levare<Latin levāre to lift


car·ni·val·esque, car·ni·val·like, adjectivepre·car·ni·val, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is Carnival?

Carnival, with a capital C, refers to the multiple-day period of merrymaking before the start of Lent. It is especially associated with the massive street festival held annually in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is famous for its big parades, ornate costumes, and samba dancing.

Carnival is also celebrated in many other countries, especially those with large Catholic populations, including Italy, Spain, France, and Germany (where it is called Fasching).

The equivalent pre-Lent celebration in the U.S. (especially New Orleans) and some other places is known as Mardi Gras.

In religious contexts, the three-day period before Lent is known as Shrovetide. Carnival is part of a tradition of indulging before the Lenten fast, but it is not a Christian holiday.

Carnival is also sometimes spelled Carnaval.

When is Carnival?

Carnival takes place during the days preceding Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. The length and start date of Carnival vary from place to place. The timing of the festival varies from year to year due to Easter having a variable date.

In 2022, the start of Carnival festivities in Rio has been postponed until April 21. In 2023, it is scheduled to start on February 17.

Where does Carnival come from?

The more general sense of carnival referring to an amusement fair comes from the capital C sense of Carnival. The first use of Carnival in English, dating to the 1540s, was as the name of the pre-Lent festival. It comes from the Old Italian word carnelevare, meaning “taking meat away,” from carne, “flesh,” and the Latin levāre, “to lift.” The name is a reference to the traditional practice of abstaining from meat during Lent.

Carnival was first celebrated in Europe. It was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. Though initially based on European customs, Carnival in Rio incorporates many traditions from Indigenous Brazilians as well as those passed down from enslaved African Peoples.

What are some terms that often get used in discussing Carnival?

How is Carnival discussed in real life?

Carnival is especially associated with the massive street festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which features huge parades and lavish costumes.


Try using Carnival!

True or False?

Carnival takes place immediately after Lent.

How to use carnival in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for carnival

/ (ˈkɑːnɪvəl) /

  1. a festive occasion or period marked by merrymaking, processions, etc: esp in some Roman Catholic countries, the period just before Lent
  2. (as modifier)a carnival atmosphere
a travelling fair having merry-go-rounds, etc
a show or display arranged as an amusement
Australian a sports meeting

Word Origin for carnival

C16: from Italian carnevale, from Old Italian carnelevare a removing of meat (referring to the Lenten fast)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012