It’s party time! In celebration of Carnival Day, we reminisce about the two world-famous parties we’ve celebrated so far this year.
Cape Town Minstrel Carnival
For decades this raucous music and dance celebration which explodes each year onto Cape Town’s streets in a flurry of colour, song, drumbeats and dance was called the Coon Carnival but in post-apartheid South Africa this racist term has been changed to the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival.
The Kaapse Klopse, as it is more commonly known as in Afrikaans, has been an institution in Cape Town, South Africa, since the days of slavery when local Malay slaves only had one day a year when they were allowed to relax and entertain themselves – the 2nd of January.
Legend has it that the slaves took advantage of their masters sleeping off New Year’s hangovers. “So what about derde nuwe jaar?” today’s minstrels joke with huge smiles.
As a child growing up in Cape Town it was hugely exciting to stand and watch as the teams of so-called “coloured” (mixed race) minstrels boogied past in a blaze of colour and noise, teams vying to outdo each other.
Although it has been compared to the Rio Carnival and New Orleans Mardi Gras, its music and style is totally unique – a blend of sardonic humour and joie de vivre, with team names such as the Fabulous Woodstock Starlites, Die Burger Happy Boys and the Woodlands Blikkiesdorp Crooning Minstrels.
As an adult I lived for a few years in Bo Kaap, the colourful former slave quarter of Cape Town which has become a battleground between gentrification and historical ownership. It is here that the street parade kicks off to the delight of locals and visitors.
And of course, as in any carnival there is a sense of ownership that can lead to rivalry but despite it all, the Kaapse Klopse has to be one of the most joyous, loud, defiant and humorous carnivals in the world.
Diana Streak travelled at her own expense. Lead photo © Terry Shean. Minstrel photos © South African Tourism.
Quebec Winter Carnival
When life gives you snow, make a snow man. This is the cheerful approach of residents of Quebec City in Canada’s eastern province of Quebec – and it’s carried them through many a harsh and inhospitable winter. When temperatures plummet to a bone-snapping minus 15 degrees Celsius (and sometimes lower) during the city’s coldest month, February, its inhabitants don’t bunker down in their heated homes; no, they pull on their coats and beanies and gloves and head out into that spine-chilling cold to celebrate their wondrous winter weather.
The week-long Quebec Winter Carnival is a warm display of adoration for the icy fairyland that is Quebec City in winter. The Lawrence River freezes into a gigantic, slow-flowing slush. Pavements and hillsides are iced with snow so voluminous and so slick it appears (to the uninitiated at least) to have come straight from the pages of a fairy-tale. The walls of the city grow taller still beneath the metre or so of snow that settles upon the ramparts. As the watery sun makes its early departure each day, the streets light up with the profusion of lights trellised across the city.
This coldest of seasons has been embraced since 1894, when the city’s population decided that a carnival would help invigorate their spirits and warm their hearts. After a period of dormancy (caused by the interruptions of war and the Great Depression) the modern-day Quebec Winter Carnival was launched in 1955. Today, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from Canada and beyond.
And so here I am whizzing down the city’s famous (and very old, as its name suggests) 1884 Slide at 70km per hour and skidding to a giddy halt beside the magical Le Chateau Frontenac. I climb to the top of Parc du Bastion-de-la-Reine, from where I can see the St Lawrence River flowing eastwards in a broad ribbon of glaring white. And I make my way down to that frozen riverfront where I watch teams competing in a canoe race which requires participants to paddle through the frigid waters and cross ice floes by foot while dragging their vessels behind them.
The streets here are filled with jollity, and the pubs and cafes are open to those in need of a warming shot of cocoa or rum. But I warm up in the most chilling of ways: by drinking shots poured into ice-hewn glasses at the Hotel de Glace, a glorious establishment made (almost) entirely of ice.
READ OUR OTHER CARNIVAL STORIES
- In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is not the only city that has a fab carnival. Try Recife! Recife’s all dolled up for carnival.
- In Sydney, another carnival of sorts takes place at this time of the year. The best of Sydney’s Mardi Gras.