Catchy calypso tunes are the heart of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, but who can say where the famous pre-Lenten festival is the liveliest?
Partly religious but also very much bacchanalian, Carnival is celebrated in much of the Christian world with food, drink and lots of fun. In places with a French link, it is sometimes called Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday," which is the last day of Carnival. In German-speaking lands, Carnival is called Fasching.
This year, Carnival officially concludes on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The following day, Ash Wednesday, traditionally begins a period of penitence leading up to Easter.
Among the major Carnival celebrations:
New Orleans. "Let the good times roll," they say in New Orleans, and especially at Mardi Gras, a 10-day extravaganza of parades, grand balls, exotic (sometimes ribald) costumes and seemingly nonstop revelry.
Rio de Janeiro. Samba, sexuality and summer in the tropics. The combination explodes into the world's most famous costume party. Masquerade balls, a grand samba competition at the Sambadrome and gala parades make Carnival in Rio five days of spectacle.
Germany. The Fasching season begins early in Germany, weeks before Lent, and reaches its peak on Rose Monday (the Monday before Ash Wednesday), which this year is Feb. 15. Major parades featuring masked figures with enormous heads are held in Cologne, Munich, Mainz and Du sseldorf.
Venice. Masked Venetians dance in the streets and ancient squares during Carnival in Venice, the 10 days leading up to Lent. Among the highlights: fireworks, music, special art exhibits, theatricals and masquerade balls.
Mobile. Alabama's friendly port city has a French heritage and a grand 10-day Mardi Gras (though Old Mobileans call it "Carnival"). A special attraction is the Joe Cain "People's Parade" on the Sunday before Lent (Feb. 14) when anybody in costume can join the procession through the downtown historic district. Afterward, Le Krewe de Bienville, a white-tie ball at the Municipal Auditorium, welcomes the public, including visitors.
Nice. A huge fireworks display over the bay at Nice traditionally inaugurates Carnival on the Cote d' Azur, and for the next 12 days before Lent the old city's streets are filled with masked revelers, floats, confetti, music and gorgeous flowers.