Carnival in Mexico

Carnival Parade in Veracruz
••• Carnival Parade in Veracruz. Getty Images / Keren Su

Carnival is a colorful and uninhibited celebration, an opportunity to express joy, have fun, eat and drink in excess, and party until dawn. It is celebrated in many places in the Catholic world: in preparation for the solemnity of Lent, the unrestrained celebration allows people to get all the craziness out of their systems so they'll be ready for the sobriety and temperance that characterizes the Lenten season.

Carnival celebrations in Mexico are some of the most exuberant you'll find anywhere. Carnival in Mazatlan is said to be the third largest celebration world-wide, following Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans.

How Carnival is Celebrated in Mexico:

Though celebrations vary somewhat by destination, the biggest Carnivals usually begin with the Quema del Mal Humor, the "Burning of Bad Mood." This is usually an effigy of an unpopular political figure and the burning symbolically represents the people leaving behind everyday worries and concerns so that the merriment can begin. This event kicks off the fun which also usually includes the crowning of a Carnival Queen, and King - sometimes referred to as the Rey Feo, or "Ugly King" (in Mazatlan he's officially called el Rey de la Alegria, the "King of Joy") who will preside over the festivities. There are extravagant parades with elaborately decorated floats and revelers wearing creative costumes, concerts and other live entertainment, dances, fireworks, and carnival rides and games.

The last day of the Carnival festivities is Mardi Gras, "Fat Tuesday," or Martes de Carnaval, when another effigy is burned, this one called "Juan Carnaval," which represents all the wanton revelry associated with Carnival. This marks the end of the debauchery and return to temperance. On Ash Wednesday folks will go to church to receive ashes and the abstinence of Lent will begin.

When is Carnival?

Carnival is held during the week prior to Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent, a period of forty days before Easter. Just as the dates for Easter vary from year to year, so do the dates of Carnival. Find out when Carnaval is celebrated.

Where to Celebrate Carnival in Mexico:

The biggest Carnaval celebrations take place in the port cities of Veracruz and Mazatlan and are expressions of the festive and welcoming culture in these places, but other celebrations take place throughout the country, each with their own particular flavor. In indigenous communities, Carnival often takes on a completely different meaning and the festivities may include a combination of Christian and pre-Hispanic traditions.

See our list of the top places to celebrate Carnival in Mexico.