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Carnival in Mazatlan
By Robin Dohrn-Simpson
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After Christmas festivities and Valentine’s romance, it’s time for atonement. That atonement, according to the Catholic Church, is Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, abstinence, and repentance, leading up to Easter. As a sign of sacrifice, devotion, and personal strength, millions of people worldwide give up something. However, before the hardships, foregone pleasures, and sacrifices begin, many countries celebrate with music, food, alcohol, and fun. This celebration is called Carnival, Carnaval, or Mardi Gras.
Every country and culture that celebrates Carnival has adapted its own traditions. Mardi Gras in New Orleans has its floats and beads and King Cakes. Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has a parade of samba schools and phantasmagoric floats in a place called the Sambadrome. The Caribbean nations of Trinidad and Tobago have outlandish costumes, Soca music, and limbo competitions.
Mazatlán, Mexico, claims to have the 3rd largest Carnival celebration in the world, and it is one of the most unique in all of Mexico, complete with Brass Bands lining the streets and beaches, each trying to be louder than the next. Like traveling troubadours, they meander from street to street, restaurant to restaurant playing their Banda and Tambora music. You can walk down the Malecon and listen to a different band every few meters.
Every year there is a theme. Sprinkled throughout Mazatlán’s Centro Historico and along the Malacon (boardwalk), you will find pieces of art depicting versions of the theme, which in 2022 was “Lanao, the Journey Continues” or “Time Travel,” which encompasses all those important events that marked a before and after in our society.
The 2023 theme is “Dejavu, Dreams of a Carnival.” It will be fun to see what the artists come up with this coming year. All the floats, costumes, and performances will be based on this theme. In addition, Monigotes, or giant, colorful carnival puppets, will be paraded along the Malecon.
The Saturday of Carnival offers flamboyant parades filled with frenetic exuberance,
fireworks, awards for poetry, art, and literature, and carnival royalty coronations. People gather around the Malecon, drinking, socializing, and dancing the night away to all the different bands.
The Naval Combat Fireworks
This firework show is a popular event on Saturday at Olas Atlas. The area gets very crowded, and a fun way to see the fireworks is to go out on a boat tour. The display dates back to when a French Naval Ship tried to invade Mazatlán but wasn’t successful as the residents fought back and held off the attack. If you are into reenactments, you can watch as actors show the story.
The Burning of the Bad Humor
Before the fireworks on Saturday is a fun event worth attending. It is a Mexican tradition to burn a giant puppet filled with firecrackers. The puppet is modeled after an unpopular public figure from the previous year, which is hanged and then burnt. The belief is that this will banish all the anger and animosity from the city.
The Inaugural Parade
Sunday’s parade is the highlight for many. It’s the most iconic and anticipated parade and goes the entire 11 kilometers of the Malecon. The parade occurs twice. Sunday is more family-oriented, and the second parade on Tuesday, which is the last chance to party before Lent, starts. It can get a bit raucous and last well into the evening.
If you want something more serene, go to the baseball stadium for several cultural activities highlighting local authors and poets. Enjoy readings and celebrations of literary awards for Mexican writers. The name came from 1925 when winners were awarded prizes of flowers. Today the games receive many entries, and contestants with the best “flowery verse” are awarded prizes.
Five recurring characters preside over carnival: the King of Carnival, the King of Madness, The Carnival Queen, The Queen of the Floral Games, and the Children’s Queen. Make your way to the baseball stadium to see the crowning of the royals. The Kings are satirical depictions of the royals, and the Queens are elegant and graceful.
Getting Around Mazatlán
Another unique thing about Mazatlán is the easy mode of transportation. Converted golf carts, called Pulmonia, are open-air vehicles found mostly in tourist areas. Some have doors, and some don’t. Most have decent stereos and drive around with the music cranked. You can flag them down, just like a taxi, or find one parked in front of a main restaurant or bar. Make sure you ask a price before getting in. They are inexpensive and great fun!
2023 Carnival Dates and Helpful Tips
Festivities begin on Friday, February 17, and continue through February 21. Don’t expect events to be on time. They start when they start. Don’t be late, but don’t get frustrated if events are delayed. Expect huge crowds. If you don’t like crowds and loud music, don’t go. You can buy little wooden fold-up chairs from vendors to watch the parade. Don’t bring valuables with you. Beware of pickpockets. Bring small bills to purchase from street vendors, as they don’t accept cards. Dress casually, wear good shows, avoid jewelry and bring a jacket for evening festivities. And most importantly- bring earplugs!