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Carnival in Aruba

The Aruba Carnival is a thrilling show of over-the-top pageantry, produced by thousands and delighting and uniting the entire country. Here’s the scoop on how it began.

Carnival was born in 1954, as a series of small street festivals. The Tivoli Club, Aruba’s oldest private social club, was the first to have a pre-Lenten celebration in Oranjestad in February 1944. The Allied victory of World War II was commemorated by an Aruba Festival - a large parade in San Nicolas comprised largely of Caribbean-English immigrants who came to Aruba to work at the Lago Oil Refinery. The first steel and brass bands debuted a few years later and small parades sprouted here and there.

In 1955, various clubs and districts were brought together for the first public Aruba Carnival with the first official Carnival queen. The traditional Grand Parades were organized in 1957. On November 11, 1966 (11/11/66) at 11:11 am, Stichting Arubaanse Carnaval (SAC), Carnival’s organizing body, was founded. Each year, the Carnival season officially begins at this precise moment. Ever since 1981, Tivoli, Aruba’s oldest social club, has produced the Lighting Parade, a twinkling nighttime extravaganza.

Following the Lighting Parade are Children’s Parades, the Pajama Party, the Grand Carnival Parade in San Nicolas and the exciting finale - the Grand Carnival Parade in Oranjestad. The midnight burning of the King Momo, a life-size effigy, signals the end of the Aruba Carnival season on Shrove Tuesday, after Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This tradition symbolizes the burning of the Spirit of Carnival who will rise again when the next season begins.

The origins of Aruba Carnival are found thousands of years ago. The word is derived from the Latin carne vale, meaning farewell to flesh, referring to the time when many Christians gave up food, drink and unacceptable behavior for Lent. Its beginnings can be traced back to the feasts of antiquity held to honor such gods as Bacchus and Saturn. Colonization introduced this phenomenon to the New World and the French brought it to the Caribbean.