Carnaval in Mérida, a week of wanton revelry leading up to the restrain-filled observance of Lent, is one of the biggest occasions of the year for the city and considered one of the best carnaval festivals in the world. Here at Hacienda Petac we have a somewhat calmer celebration, one filled with good food and plenty of poolside relaxation, but in nearby Mérida the festivities are some of the best in Latin America.
Although usually with a slightly different theme, Carnaval in Mérida always maintains ties to the country’s Mayan roots as the parades and events throughout the week blend fantasy and reality. Allegorical parade floats, mystical creature costumes and reenactments of Mayan folklore characterize the week of Yucatecan bacchanalia.
Carnaval celebrations began in the 16th century when the Spanish governor began hosting balls, feasts and costume parties for Mérida’s wealthier citizens, the population known as the “Casta Divina,” or the Divine Caste. Since then Carnaval has evolved into a much more egalitarian affair and is now celebrated publicly in the city’s tree-lined central plaza. Festivities commence with the Burning of the Bad Humors (Quemando de Mal Humor) a firework filled ritual in which evil spirits are chased and burned as a means to purge the city and make way for the week’s revelry. The next day features the Parade of the Children, a procession of floats filled with enthusiastic kids in colorful costumes representing Mayan mystical spirits. The coroneted Carnaval king and queen follow behind, dressed in full traditional costume.
Each day thereafter is defined by raucous parades and performances that bleed into evening concerts and outdoor parties that last until dawn. Coordinated by the Carnaval Committee, hundreds of artists from all over the world fly in for curated exhibitions while musicians, dancers and models offer glamour to each day of parades. The streets of Mérida are replete with partiers on bleachers, kids on parents’ shoulders, food vendors on curbs and local TV and radio personalities on stages set up to comment on it all.
By the end of the weekend, the city’s party stamina begins to wane, allowing for the Regional Parade – the most traditionally Mayan parade of the bunch and characterized by Yucatecan music and horse-drawn carriages – to be much more family-oriented. Although it is truly the best overindulgence of the year, Mérida’s Carnaval is known in particular for being a somewhat respectful celebration that centers more on family. Less emphasis is placed on pre-Lent debauchery here than it is in many other cities.
The Carnaval’s finale, one of our favorite parts of the week, is another annual tradition known as The Battle of the Flowers where, instead of throwing beads or candy, crowds throw fresh flowers at each other. Originally a mock battle with flowers for ammunition, it is now an official work holiday and the colorful final hurrah before, with the tongue-in-cheek ceremony of the Burial of Juan Carnaval, events come to a close.
It seems that the number of Carnaval attendees grows with each passing year. According to Mayor Renan Barrera, Mérida played host to over one million visitors throughout Carnaval 2013. Discussions have already begun with regards to relocating future celebrations. Officials are looking for a different part of the city until the Paseo de Montejo Avenue – the traditional parade route – can be modernized and expanded to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of celebrators.
Until then, though, Mérida returns to its normal, more elegant sensibilities. Here at Hacienda Petac, we’re waking up to calmer mornings and spending lovely evenings in the Chapel. Even we will admit, though, to our lingering curiosity over just what next year’s carnaval might bring.
Photo Credit: Metro Travel http://metrotravel.mx/