What is Carnival?
Carnival is a two-day celebration that takes place all over the world. It's filled with fantastic outfits, mouth-watering food, and upbeat live music.
The best part? It's free to attend.
The origins of Carnival
Surprisingly, Carnival is Catholic in origin. It was introduced to the Caribbean with early European settlers and colonists. Originally, it took place before Lent (on Fat Tuesday) and, in many places, takes place at the same time.
Over time, it transformed into the Carnival we all know and love today. The first country that celebrated the modern Carnival was Trinidad and Tobago. The modern Carnival was influenced by free Black people in Trinidad, French immigrants, Spanish settlers, and British nationals. At the end of slavery, Carnival became a celebration of emancipation and community.
Carnival made its journey, back across the Atlantic, to the UK with the West Indian community. Settled in West London, the Notting Hill Carnival was born. Caribbean street vendors lined the pavements, eager to feed the partying masses. Live Soca music tempting the Carnival goers to dance in their amazing outfits.
Outfits, costumes, and everything in-between
With enough feathers to make a peacock jealous, there is little wonder how Carnival outfits can attract eyes. Bright colours are everywhere the eye can see.
The iconic outfits are usually made of eye-catching feathers with beads and sequin and ribbons decorating the wearer’s body. Glitter is often a must, or at least some face jewels. An elaborate headpiece to crown Carnival goers and complete the whole outfit. Oh, and they typically show off a lot of skin. It's almost like a shiny bikini.
For those not wanting to showcase as much, or spend a lot of money, clubbing outfits or typically festival wear are usually a great substitute. Once again, glitter or face jewels are a must. Some Carnival goers take inspiration from the iconic outfits and wear a jewelled top with something plain.
The Carnival Expo
The Expo is an event, usually takes place in the month of May, to educate and promote Carnivals. It gathers creators, artists, enterprises, and enthusiasts under roof to exhibit all sectors of Carnival.
For people who want to learn more about Carnival and its cultural influence, they should definitely attend the Expo. It also includes a fashion show to show off the vibrant outfits and Latin and Caribbean cuisine.
The Expo can act as a great starting point for those in the creative industry looking to start a career in the Carnival arts. The art community, business sector, and the public are drawn to the Expo, encouraging wider participation.
Over the years, cotton, flowers, and real feathers and other materials were slowly replaced by synthetic substitutes to reduce the cost of the outfits and to facilitate mass production. The knock-on effect was an increase in non-biodegradable plastics impacting the local environment. Carnival can be incredibly unsustainable; especially for an outfit you will never wear again. Or, the sheer amount of electricity used from coal powered sources.
However, change is on the horizon. In 2018, Notting Hill Carnival partnered with Ecotricity to create the greenest party in the history of Carnival. Two key Carnival locations, Tabernacle and Yaa centre, were powered with 100% green electricity for the whole of August.
There were food waste bins and recyclable can collection for Carnival goers to behave sustainably. According to Ecotricity, 800 cans that are recycled can save enough electricity to power a sound system for the day.
A collaboration between City To Sea and Thames Water encouraged cafes and restaurants to offer free water refills to Carnival goers in an effort to reduce plastic pollution.
But what about sustainable clothing? Carnival organisers could encourage goers to buy sustainable products for their outfits. These include biodegradable glitter, such as BioGlitz and more, and explore alternative options like renting clothing.
For outfit and costumes designers, well, they could switch to eco-friendly materials instead of continuing to use synthetic plastics that harm the environment.
As things slowly start to return to normal, we're hopeful that the Notting Hill Carnival will take place this year.
It is an experience of a lifetime, and if you have not been before, start planning your outfit now.