Carnival and Purim. Differences and similitudes
When Carnival and Purim are not so close to each other, like this year, it’s an excellent opportunity to think about the differences (and similitudes).
Carnival, from the Latin Caro, vale, “goodbye meat”. In the Christian calendar is the celebration of meat before Lent, the last day of feasting before a time of renunciation and sacrifice. Few people remember it today. Indeed today parties and parades often take place when Lent has begun, despite the religious calendar. That is often the case in Italy as Carnival, a time of debauchery, is lived by the people as a protest against the church’s power and its moral strictnesses.
Carnival is also a celebration of nature and anticipation of Spring. Towards the end of Wintertime, people masks themselves, to embody the coming Spring season, hidden under the cold Winter.
On the contrary, Purim is part of the leading up to Pesach; it can be read as an anticipation of the journey to freedom. We celebrate the action of God by suspending His rules. It does not become rebellious. It is rebellious in itself.
It has nothing to do with nature, It rather offers a frame to read Jewish history. Hence the numerous local Purim. Celebration of Jewish survival, of miraculous events of the history of the local Jewish community. Celebrations of the intervention of God who actually *subvert* the rules of history. What is more subversive, indeed, than the survival of a small monotheistic minority in a pagan Empire, be it the Roman or the Communist?
Now, on to the similitudes.
Think to Cancel Culture and wokeness. You know: the puritanical (and quite hypocritical) rules enforced by conformist academics and CEOs. Academics and corporations (shall we say elites?) united in the effort of transforming the Universe into a giant “safe space”. A world where every cultural expression must conform to their understanding of morality.
Will THIS be acceptable?
It’s one of the massive Carnival floats of this year in Viareggio, Tuscany. If I understand, properly, it is an Uncle Sam who rules the world and exploits minorities. This panoply of naked breast and dark skin would probably require a caution notice.
And: is Purim, the story of a beauty queen who manipulates a King to defend the privileges of the white and well-connected minority she belongs to, acceptable to the current woke morality? Probably not. I think I have lost count of the many ways Purim basic plot has been unsuccessfully clothed with some more palatable “universalistic” message. Since the times of Emancipation Purim was a source of embarrassment for the assimilationist.
In case you did not get it, I love Carnival. I love the Carnival of Venice, but because my wife is from Viareggio, we have the family tradition of joining the crowd every year in this city in Tuscany. When there was a sizeable Jewish community, they did it too, with a special “Two Colours Party” always a good fundraising opportunity for Israel. And how can we forget that many of the Carnival’s songs have been written by a Jew? Including the antherm. This is the city where every Muslim child knows by heart the words of a song written by a Jew.
And in years like this, I enjoy the double blessing of celebrating the end of Winter and the dream of total liberation by subverting the rules and despite every moral bigotry, asleep or “woke”.