1. Headline
  1. Headline

Photos: Carnival around the world

loading photos...
  1. Binche, Belgium

    The Gilles of Binche take part in the Carnival parade in Binche, Belgium. The Binche carnival, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage event, is the biggest and the liveliest annual event in Belgium. (Francois Lenoir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. New Orleans

    Rex, the King of Carnival, rides in the Krewe of Rex as he arrives at Canal St. along St. Charles Ave. Tuesday on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. New Orleans

    Lee Chance laughs as he shows off his collection of beads that he caught during the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade Tuesday on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of the Salgueiro samba school participate in the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome on March 7. (Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Port of Spain

    A masquerader from the band "What I Saw" presented by Robert Lakhan poses on the stage on Carnival at Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain on March 7. (Andrea De Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers dressed as clowns participate in a carnival parade in Sesimbra village on March 7. The clown parade in Sesimbra village became a tradition after a world record for the biggest clown march was set in 2004. (Jose Manuel Ribeiro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of the Porto da Pedra samba school participate in the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome on March 7. (Sergio Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rio de Janeiro

    Brazilian pop singer Roberto Carlos waves from atop a float of the Beija-flor samba school on the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome on March 7. (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Sao Luis do Paraitinga, Brazil

    Revelers kiss on a street during the Carnival of Sao Luis do Paraitinga, 106 miles from Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 7. The event is part of the ongoing Carnival celebrations taking place across the country. (Nacho Doce / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of the Salgueiro samba school participate in the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome. (Sergio Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of Uniao da Ilha samba school perform at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on March 7. Uniao da Ilha lost fancy dresses and floats in a fire that took place three weeks ago. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Rio de Janeiro

    Members of Uniao da Ilha participate at the Carnival Rio 2011 parade at the sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro on March 7. More than 3,000 drummers and dancers ferried into Rio‘s Sambadrome, the massive stadium where the samba schools compete, wearing costumes and lavish outfits. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Rio de Janeiro

    Members of Uniao da Ilha Samba school parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, on Monday. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rio de Janeiro

    Members of Uniao da Ilha Samba school parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, March 7. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rio de Janeiro

    A reveler of Uniao da Ilha Samba school performs at the Sambadrome on Monday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rio de Janeiro

    Dancers perform on their Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school float during a carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on March 6. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Barranquilla, Colombia

    Revelers perform during carnival celebrations in Barranquilla, Colombia. In 2003, UNESCO declared Barranquilla's carnival as a "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." (Fernando Vergara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rio de Janeiro

    Imperatriz Leopoldinense dancers perform during their carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on March 6. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    A fire breather performs during a carnival parade in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on March 6. (Erika Santelices / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Port of Spain, Trinidad

    A girl participates in the Red Cross Children's Carnival competition at Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Feb. 26. (Andrea De Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Venice

    Latvian-born artist Kathrina Asfardi performs with her flying piano at the Fenice theater in Venice, Italy, late on March 5, during the "Cavalchina," a historic annual Venetian carnival ball. (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Duesseldorf, Germany

    A carnival reveller celebrates the traditional Rose Monday carnival parade in the western German city of Duesseldorf on March 7. The Rose Monday parades in Cologne, Mainz and Duesseldorf are the highlight of the German street carnival season. (Ina Fassbender / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Paraty, Brazil

    A woman dances amid orange smoke during the 'Bloco da Lama', or Mud Block carnival parade in Paraty, Brazil, March 5. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Venice

    A horse is brought into the Fenice theater in Venice late on March 5, at the start of the "Cavalchina". (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Venice

    People dressed in carnival costumes pose in San Marco square in Venice on March 5, during the annual Venice Carnival. (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Recife, Brazil

    An aerial view of millions of revellers during the "Galo da Madrugada" (Rooster of the Morning) parade in Recife, in the northern coastal state of Pernambuco, Brazil, March 5. (Stringer/brazil / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Limassol, Cyprus

    People dance through the street during a traditional parade to mark the end of the carnival period in southern port city of Limassol, Cyprus, on March 6. (Petros Karadjias / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Evolene, Switzerland

    "Empailles" (Straw man) wearing a costume made of a jute bag stuffed with straw and scary mask walk through the streets of Evolene during a traditional carnival procession on March 6. "Empailles" along with "Peluche" who wear costumes made of animal skins and masks invade the streets of the village and scare residents with their broomsticks or their bells during carnival. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Oruro, Bolivia

    A dancer performs during Carnival celebrations in Oruro, Bolivia, March 5. (Juan Karita / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Torres Vedras, Portugal

    Carnival revelers look at a float depicting Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates, left, and Spain's Jose Zapatero, threatened by an "IMF beast" during the parade on the streets of Torres Vedras on March 6. Torres Vedras village carnival organization devoted 2011 carnival to the subject "The Jungle". (Jose Manuel Ribeiro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Prague, Czech Republic

    A girl in a costume is pictured during the Malostranky carnival parade in Prague, Czech Republic, March 5. (Filip Singer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Baranquilla, Colombia

    A reveler performs during Carnival festivities in Baranquilla, Colombia, on March 5. The Carnival of Barranquilla was declared to be a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003. (Joaquin Sarmiento / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Rio de Janeiro

    People dance during a "Ceu na Terra" street parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 5. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Sao Paulo, Brazil

    Revellers of the Vai-Vai samba school dance atop a float during the opening night of parades at the Sambadrome, as part of Carnival celebrations in Sao Paulo on March 5. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Lucerne, Switzerland

    Carnival goers celebrate the opening of the festivities in Lucerne on March 3. For five days the traditional carnival will be celebrated in the city of Lucerne. (Sigi Tischler / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers perform during the 'Mameludicos Euforicos' street carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro on March 3. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Venice, Italy

    People dressed in carnival costumes pose in San Marco square in Venice on Feb. 27 during the annual Venice Carnival. (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Canary Islands

    A nominee for Queen of the Santa Cruz carnival shows off her outfit to a jury at Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife on March 2. (Desiree Martin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Jacmel, Haiti

    Women dressed in party attire prepare to participate in a parade during carnival weekend in Jacmel, Haiti, on Feb. 27. This year's celebration was met with mixed emotion as the memory of the 2010 earthquake, which forced the cancellation of last year's event, loomed large. (Allison Shelley / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Viareggio, Italy

    A giant carnival float called ReXpubblica showing a mask of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi during the annual carnival of Viareggio on Feb. 20. (Fabio Muzzi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Oruro, Bolivia

    Women from Orinoca town, where Bolivia's President Evo Morales was born, join in celebrations in the Anata Andina (Andean carnival) in Oruro on March 3. Hundreds of ethnic groups from Oruro province participated in the carnival. (David Mercado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Nice, France

    The Queen of Nice's float takes part in a parade at the 127th Nice carnival in Nice on Feb. 19. The 127th edition of the carnival, celebrating the "Mediteranean King," runs until March 8. (Sebastien Nogier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. New Orleans

    Young girls and their dogs parade through the French Quarter during the Krewe of Barkus Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans on Feb. 27. The parade of dogs and their owners, a twist on the Krewe of Bacchus, benefits animal welfare organizations. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Lucerne, Switzerland

    A carnival goer celebrates the opening of the carnival in Lucerne, Switzerland, on March 3. (Sigi Tischler / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Viareggio, Italy

    A float depicting United States President Barack Obama with his hat topped off by a man masked as al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, titled "Barack-Adabra and the Great Circus of the Fleas," is shown at the traditional Viareggio carnival parade in Viareggio, Italy, on Feb. 20. (Paolo Lazzeroni / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Montevideo, Uruguay

    Members of group Cuareim 1080 participate in a parade to inaugurate the Carnival of Uruguay, in center Montevideo, Uruguay, on Jan. 27. The Carnival in Uruguay is one of the longest in the world, with more than 80 days of celebration, generally occurring in January through mid March, with celebrations in Montevideo being the largest and brightiest. (Ivan Franco / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Bremen, Germany

    A dressed up participant stands on the market square during the 26th Samba Carnival in Bremen, Germany, on Feb. 26. Samba groups from all over Germany take part in the street carnival. (Carmen Jaspersen / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Rio de Janeiro

    A dancer of Uniao da Ilha samba school performs while parading during carnival celebrations Monday at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. New Orleans

    Revelers reach out for items thrown by riders on a float in the Rex parade Tuesday on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image: The Gilles of Binche take part in the carnival parade in Binche
    Francois Lenoir / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (49) Carnival around the world
  2. Image: Preliminary Draw of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil - Previews
    Michael Regan / Getty Images
    Slideshow (24) Rio grand
By
updated 3/5/2011 3:53:31 PM ET 2011-03-05T20:53:31

Covered in confetti and to the sound of drums, Rio's mayor handed the key to the city to the mythical figure who reigns over the chaos of Carnival, officially opening this seaside city's five-day annual exaltation of music, booze and flesh.

"It's with much joy that I hand over command of this city to King Momo," said mayor Eduardo Paes, himself a samba dancer and percussionist who plays in the city's annual parade.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual Worl...

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

The rotund King Momo embodies Carnival, a raucous free-for-all where excesses are encouraged and the natural order of things is turned upside down: men dress as women, the poor parade as kings, rules are bent and everyone escapes their drab daily existence for a few days of catharsis.

This year's king, the crowned and costumed Milton Rodrigues, flanked by the Carnival queen and two princesses, said it was time to put aside the city's problems and focus on the joy of being a resident of this beautiful place. Much is in store for Rio, he said: the upcoming World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games, and the time to start celebrating is now.

"As the king of the party, I declare the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro is officially open," Rodrigues said. "Long live Rio, and long live Carnival!"

This year the celebration is expected to draw about 756,000 visitors, both foreign and Brazilian, who will pack hotels to nearly 100 percent capacity and spend about $559 million, according to Rio state's tourism department.

While pre-Carnival parties have stoked the wild atmosphere in Rio for a few weeks, several tragedies have already struck revelers. A fire burned through warehouses containing more than 8,000 samba group costumes on Feb. 7, forcing the organizations to scramble for weeks to make up what they lost before the parades on Sunday and Monday. A police investigation concluded Thursday the fire was accidental, and not arson.

A woman in Rio de Janeiro died Feb. 20 after falling from a Carnival sound truck, and eight days later in rural Minas Gerais state a downed power line electrocuted a crowd dancing in a packed street parade, killing 16 people and injuring dozens of others.

The losses were mourned, but didn't put a dent in the partying.

Celebrating excess
In addition to the elaborate two-day samba group parade and the high-dollar costumed balls where the rich spend a lot to wear very little in the most exclusive company, Rio's free, open-to-all street Carnival is bigger than ever.

This year, 424 street bands and "blocos," as mobile street parties are called, have registered with the city. Starting several weeks before Carnival, they parade all over town, playing their own songs or traditional Carnival tunes with a following of hundreds or tens of thousands of revelers dancing, drinking, and singing heartily in their wake.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. ‘There has been an awakening’: See the new ‘Star Wars’ trailer

      After years of anticipation, the Force is finally with us again. The long-awaited first trailer for “Star Wars: The Force ...

    2. Watch this flight attendant rock Lorde’s ‘Royals'
    3. 6 awesome turkey sandwiches to make with your Thanksgiving leftovers
    4. Pup, pup and away! Photographer lets leaping dogs fly
    5. Watch Jimmy Fallon, Rashida Jones sing awesome holiday medley

Lording over the sweaty, frenzied masses is Momo.

"He's the sovereign reigning over Carnival, commanding the party," said Haroldo Costa, an author of several books about Brazil's Carnival traditions. "Handing the city's key over to him is a great symbol — from this moment on, he is the physical and spiritual leader of the city and his cheer is omnipresent."

Slideshow: Rio grand (on this page)

Rio has had a King Momo since the 1930s, when the first one — a rotund, hard-drinking sports journalist — was chosen by colleagues to parade around town in a crown and colorful costume, spreading the party spirit.

As with that first King, Momo traditionally was required to carry extra weight. He is, after all, the standard-bearer for all things excessive. Until 2004 Rio had a requirement that anyone competing for the post had to weigh at least 330 pounds (150 kilograms). With diabetes and obesity on the rise in Brazil, Rio removed the weight requirement. Many other cities have followed.

It was the dismissal of the weight category that first gave the current King Momo the hope of ascending to the throne. Back then, Rodrigues, a bank manager in the offseason, was in pretty good shape — a mere 255 pounds (116 kilograms) on a 6-foot frame.

"There was this taboo, you couldn't be the king if you weren't a big guy," he said. "But I've always loved Carnival, lived for it, ever since I was a teenager. I would run off to samba group rehearsals so I could dance."

When he saw a relatively trim man take the crown in 2004, he decided to run. Four years and four attempts later, Rodrigues was elected, and has won ever since. Momo candidates are judged on how well they can samba, their knowledge of Rio's Carnival traditions, and their friendly cheer. They take home a $12,000 purse and the chance to be the face of a party that showcases Rio de Janeiro to the rest of the world.

Slideshow: Carnival celebrations around the world

Samba spirit
During the five-day festivities, the king shuttles around town in a van with a chauffeur provided by the city together with the Queen of Carnival and two princesses, chosen by jurors for their dancing, good looks and Carnival spirit.

This Carnival court opens the Carnival parade and makes an appearance at as many celebrations as possible, from the fanciest dress-up balls to the humblest celebrations on Rio's poor outskirts.

  1. Related coverage
    1. It's A Snap!
      UGC

      Check out the latest photos from msnbc.com readers and vote for your favorite. When you're done, upload your own vacation ... Find us on Facebook

Balancing the schedule of the Carnival King with his job and his duties as a husband — to a wife who also performs as a dancer for the Portela samba group — and the father of a 2-year-old daughter is tough, he said.

"The whole family is turned upside down during this time of the year," he said. "The little one has been learning to samba since before she was born."

The only problem Rodrigues has now, ironically, is controlling his weight. The drinking and fast food that keep him going in the days leading up to Carnival have ballooned his weight beyond 150 kilograms — how much beyond that, he's not sure, because he's stopped looking, Rodrigues said.

It's all worth it, he said.

"Carnival is the world's biggest manifestation of happiness, merrymaking, extravagance," he said. "It's a massive getting rid of all the stresses of every day, and it brings a sense of peace and togetherness. I hope to do this as long as I can, God willing and my disposition holding up."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    Black Friday survival guide: 7 apps to help you shop

    11/28/2014 12:05:43 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T12:05:43
  1. Blogging Over Thyme , A Spicy Pe

    8 great recipes for leftover Thanksgiving sides and desserts

    11/26/2014 5:11:02 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T17:11:02
  1. Star Wars / YouTube

    ‘There has been an awakening’: See the new ‘Star Wars’ trailer

    11/28/2014 4:46:51 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T16:46:51
  1. Andrew Kelly / Reuters

    video Black Friday shoppers flock into stores

    11/28/2014 12:17:55 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T12:17:55
  1. Courtesy of Courtney Rowland/Nei

    6 awesome turkey sandwiches to make with your Thanksgiving leftovers

    11/26/2014 1:57:02 PM +00:00 2014-11-26T13:57:02
  1. TODAY

    Watch this flight attendant rock Lorde’s ‘Royals'

    11/28/2014 4:05:10 PM +00:00 2014-11-28T16:05:10