If anything compares to my love of summer and shedding all this restrictive clothing in the spirit of festive warm weather nakedness, it’s Carnaval season. Until I can take my sorta-Caribbean behind to Trinidad, Canada, or Brazil, the motherlands of all south-of-the-border pageantry, I’ll be enjoying celebrations in Miami, New York, and DC. And I’m taking Tween Girl Supreme with me.
When I mentioned that in conversation with a random woman the other day, she balled her face up in a frown and basically lifted her leg over my plan. “I would never take my child around that mess,” she grunted. “They are too raunchy and everyone is half-naked. It’s too trashy for me.”
Do I need to tell you that chitchat with Miss High and Mighty fell pretty flat after that? I think I speak on behalf of all Carnaval-goers when I say: yee-haw. Keep your prudish rear at home. Means more curry chicken and cabbage for us, an-ty-way.
Just so you don’t harbor saddidy thoughts like the poo-poo lady in the store, there are two basic things to know before taking your little ones to Carnaval: these celebrations are born from communities that aren’t nearly as uptight about their bodies and sensuality as we Americans are. Here, we’re always getting sex and smut shoved down our throats, but then they have the nerve to still be very taboo, very scandalous, very hush-hush subjects. In the islands — most of them, anyway — conservative, church-based culture and party and nightlife culture are blended into one big way of living.
That’s not to say every woman in Jamaica is a closet dancehall queen or every guy in Grenada is a party god. But it’s nothing for two girls to dance together in what I guess would be the American equivalent of grinding: it doesn’t mean their act is overtly sexual. It’s just part of the fun. You will see little girls and boys dancing wildly, maybe doing splits or winding their little hips. You’ll see stilt walkers gyrating eight feet up off the ground (which is a heck of a lot more impressive than regular guys doing it at eye-level). In fact, you’ll see folks of all ages and shapes shaking their rumps in the street.
Which brings me to the second thing you ought to know about Carnaval: West Indians have no shame when it comes to body issues. Cellulite, fat rolls, dimples, dents, sagging, stretch marks — never you mind. They lets it all hang out. Which means Carnaval festivities are also an ego boost for you, Mom. (Bonus!) There’s no time to be inhibited about your chunky thighs or your t-shirt clinging to your back fat (or is that just me?) when people of all sizes and states of physical fitness are trotting around in thongs, bathing suits, and maybe — gulp — even less.
Once you get beyond those two points, Carnaval is playtime for all five senses. The food, the music, the art, the beautiful, elaborate costumes (plus a little human eye candy for e’rybody) and the camaraderie of the Caribbean massive from Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic (yay! waving my flag!), and about a dozen other nations mashing it up to make a freakin’ awesome party for you and the kiddies.
I’m not a one-woman advertising team — Lord knows there are enough people out there as it is. I’m just encouraging folks who turn their noses up at the festivities to pack the judgment away, cut loose, and have memorably good time.
How do you explain traditions from other cultures like Carnaval that may seem strange, outlandish, or just like wow to your kids?
All photos via yours truly and tibchris/Flickr