February is the month of carnival. By hearing this word, some people will spontaneously think about the famous Brazilian tradition of carnival, characterized by the scantily-clad well-curved women. For those who are rather fond of a more ‘artistic’ carnival, the word may remind of the carnival of Venice. This feast is associated with meticulously painted masks. For Belgians, the word carnival will probably remind of the ‘voil jeanetten’ (men disguised as showy women) of the carnival in Aalst.
The way people from all over the world celebrate carnival differs a lot, but they all have one thing in common: it’s about letting go. Carnival started as a pagan tradition and has been adopted by Christianity. Originally, it was the ultimate occasion to let go before the Lent (the 40 days of fasting and reflection before Easter).
During the last days before Lent, a giant party was held to finish up the food (especially the fat) they had stocked during winter because otherwise it would rot. This party that involved the entire community was characterized by a lot of enthusiasm and delight expressed in masquerades and feasts. It sharply contrasted with the following 40 days of fasting. The prospect of spring and the blooming nature offering a lot of new possibilities helped people to make it through the Lent.
In current society, the original meaning of Carnival as moment of release before fasting is pushed to the background, giving the lead to a derived, non-religious related interpretation of carnival: an opportunity to release stress and pressure, to escape from the everyday routine. The masquerade, that typifies Carnival, helps to mark this break from daily life.
Let’s put this tradition of disguise in current society under the microscope and have a closer look at what drives people to participate in masquerades.
A masquerade is a way of expressing feelings and emotions and even of misbehaving in an acceptable way. Who would lose his temper over a man, disguised like Robin Hood for carnival and steeling from the rich as part of his role? Indeed, no one.
Yet, the feelings and emotions expressed by wearing costumes and masks are not always as conscious as one might think. Whether one is aware or unaware of the expressed feelings plays a pivotal role in the underlying motivations of disguising oneself:
For some, a masquerade can be a way to manifest conscious feelings and emotions. Mostly, one component of the ‘real’ personality is accentuated and even enlarged. This zooming in on a specific characteristic reveals not only the self-knowledge of someone, but also his or her ability of self-mockery. One makes a caricature of himself. In this perspective of masquerade, the fun-factor is of major importance. A masquerade is a moment of joy, aimed at entertaining others and oneself. The use of carnival costumes masks a need for confirmation for and attention to the ‘real life’ personality. A beautiful woman disguised as Barbie illustrates this caricature-masquerade.
For others, a masquerade is rather a ritual of self-creation where imagination plays a major role. Costumes, masks and wigs are instruments that allow to create a total ‘new’ personality that is often the opposite of the ‘real life’ personality. In other words, masquerades give a voice to the alter-ego. It is an opportunity to do what the ‘ego’ doesn’t dare to do. The feelings and desires expressed by the disguise are most often unconscious and are linked with the imagination, desires and fantasy of the costumed person. Unlike the other motivational segment where disguise covered a need for confirmation, this segment conceals a need for experiencing one’s fantasy without being punished or judged for it. Consequently, great value is attached to the temporary character of the disguise. The limited duration of the disguise allows to enjoy the experience of the fantasy to the fullest, since almost anything is accepted within the framework of carnival. An example of this motivation of denying your own personality in favor of your deeper lying desires is a shy boy disguised as Superman, as such giving expression to his (unconscious) desire to be assertive and noticed by others.
Carnival gives a framework to express feelings and desires, both conscious ones and hidden, unconscious ones. This well-defined frame/context allows you to let go and play with your own identity but also to distance yourself from your behavior afterwards. Carnival is a valid excuse for experiencing your imagination or for exaggerating a typical feature in an active way without being judged for it or without having to justify your behavior.
Now it’s up to you to give yourself or your alter-ego their 15 minutes of fame. And if you get any questions about your behavior, blame it on the carnival!
Mieke Van der Haegen
Does this sound like the sweetest and most caring of all celebrations to you? St Valentine’s Day is indeed a time to celebrate romance and love, but its origins may have been covered in blood. The origin of the tradition isn’t fully clear but is most likely a mixture of pagan rituals, Christianity, dark Medieval practices, 19th century Romanticism and 20th century commercialism. Or it could just well be about biology, mid February being the time when the annual mating season for many birds begins in the Northern Hemisphere.
Whatever its origin, Valentine’s Day is a festivity that touches us all. Yet we all seem to respond in different ways, ranging from aversion (there are even Facebook groups against St. Valentin) and ignoration over occasional lip service (joining in every couple of years) to full enthusiasm. This depends on the attitude we take towards this happening: some choose to regard it as meaningless and superficial commercialism – which by the way is convenient as it justifies ignoration. For others it is truly an extra possibility to strengthen, re-invigorate or simply respect the bond between loved ones. What most have in common is that Saint Valentine creates tension, makes one consider his/her options and forces a choice. It may be commercial but in the end it’s up to all of us to decide on the investment one makes.
The eternal dilemma – do we really need a specific day to celebrate love – was well illustrated in a Valentine’s Day related publicity on Belgian tv that caught my attention last week. It showed a woman reading a magazine with gifting ideas who complained to her partner “Oh no, this magazine is full of Valentine stuff, this is all so commercial and fake, no need to bother…” . However, a voice from above told us that women who say such things in reality want to say “Darling, Valentine is approaching, will you buy something for me?” So was she really uninterested? Maybe she was well looking through commercialism but still desiring to get something from her loved one on this day? This shows the Valentine dilemma: on the one hand we all like to get special attention from our dearest but on the other hand we don’t like this attention being reduced to overt (one off) commercialism.
And so the celebration of Valentine's Day goes on, in varied ways.
From your Valentine,
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