Carnival is a Christian festive season that occurs before the Christian season of Lent. The main events typically occur during February or early March and it involves a public celebration and/or parade combining some elements of a circus, masks and public street party.
Pope Gregory the Great decided that fasting would start on Ash Wednesday. The whole Carnaval event was set before the fasting, to set a clear division between the pagan and the Christian custom. It was also the custom during Carnaval that the ruling class would be mocked using masks and disguises. In the Christian tradition the fasting is to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert according to the New Testament and also to reflect on Christian values.
Carnival was in its full glory in Europe by the fourteenth century. It lasted up to the sixteenth century, and then it made its way to Belize.
In Corozal part of the Carnival Culture still remains but according Coordinator for the Corozal House of Culture, Deborah Wilkes, the tradition is slowly dying along with its main character, Juan Carnival. In order to keep the tradition alive the House of Culture is planning an event for the 6th of February.
“This weekend we are presenting Juan Carnaval 2016, this is an intangible cultural tradition here that is basically for northern Belize and is something that is pretty much dying out in Corozal although we have one wonderful cultural group in Caledonia Village that has been keeping that tradition over the years and it is starting to falter there too so for the Corozal House of Culture this is our third year of bringing Juan Carnaval to the community reviving it reminding our elders what it used to be and hopefully engaging with the community and promoting it and like I said reviving it in Corozal. This year we are going with the true tradition onto the streets of town so we are having a small Carnaval Caravan and we will be touring on the principals streets of Corozal town, so that is including traditional dances as well as los Mascarados, so Saturday February 6th at 5pm we are departing from the Corozal Central Park and we will head up fourth avenue, which is our primary streets, and up to Atlantic Bank where there will be a performance and then cut across west to fifth avenue south and then we will go ahead towards the market on to the highway a little and then comeback winding up here at the House of Culture."
After the small parade Juan carnival will be disposed of but not after his last will is read.
When we get back to the House of Culture we will have a final stage presentation where the groups will do all of their dances and we will have the reading of San Juan Testament and that is a colorful presentation by the Corozal Junior College students and then we will finish the whole ceremony with the burning of Juan Carnaval, it is a small presentation this year, the idea was to be on the streets of Corozal town but it is a challenge to have the community participate, a lot of people recall it but motivating is a challenge so this year w ae keeping it nice and compact tight and then next year we will go larger.”
Legend tells us that after Don Juan Carnaval died, the village continued the celebration in his honor. Now they make an effigy of Don Juan carving a face from a coconut and stuffing the clothing with grass.
Usually at the end of the festival there is a re-enactment of Don Juan’s wedding where his concubines lament that he was getting married, this is followed by Don Juan’s last will and testament where he leaves all his good looks, riches, wisdom and abilities to all the men in the community.
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