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Roman Catholic Festivities



     Festivities are keys to a national culture. The Pope's appearances in Mexico and St. Louis prompted seriously devout demonstrations. Not so Brazilian carnival, which is an Afro-American manifestation, although other races join in. A group of Brazilian Indians went to Bahia to stage a protest, but they joined the carnival fun, and danced the samba in their own way. The dancing, featuring expensive dresses or undresses, raged even inland. In colonial Ouro Preto there were colorful celebrations with, as a side show, naked men and women dancing behind frozen glass. A student praised this as very democratic (!?). To survive and prosper a modern state needs a responsible population, of which carnival was not a demonstration; the figures for killed and wounded began trickling in. By parading themselves as sex objects, the women did not advance the cause of feminism. The Church tried to recapture carnival as in Sao Paulo Father Marcelo Rossi conducted a revivalist meeting, with a huge crowd jumping up and down; the only difference was that they were soberly dressed. Lent? Forget it.
     In Mexico the only conspicuous carnival was in Merida, where is coincided with President Clinton's visit; after his acquittal, he must have shared the carnival spirit. Scarcely mentioned in Brazil, the word "lent" was common in Mexico, as stores stocked up with fish. Spanish Catholics boast that they have a papal dispensation from eating fish, but that does not seem to extend to Mexico. By coincidence, the Chinese were celebrating the Year of the Rabbit by consuming quantities of that sacrificial victim, to the sound of exploding firecrackers, much less festive than the Brazilian samba.
     In the United States, New Orleans celebrated what it described as the world's biggest carnival after Rio, but much less euphoric and colorful. In the rest of the United States, Catholics celebrated the beginning of Lent with masses at which the priests had on their foreheads crosses marked in ashes. For them carnival was just a prelude to Ash Wednesday and the solemnity of Lent, leading up to Good Friday and Easter. They realize that life is a serious business.

Ronald Hilton - 02/17/99


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