Feliz Carnaval! Happy Shrovetide! During this season before Lent, Catholics around the world indulge like no other time of the year. They treat themselves to special foods and drinks, host parties, and gather with family and friends. Carnaval (or Carnival in English) celebrations vary from place to place. But they often include events like parades, perfomances, church services, or community gatherings. Maryknollers have experienced Carnaval celebrations in many Latin American countries, like Peru, Guatemala, and Brazil.

Today we check in with Lay Missioners Jim and Karen Halberg Weaver in Bolivia as they celebrate Carnaval with their neighbors in March 2013. Their newsletter tells us that their Carnaval wasn’t as wild as Rio or Venice, but they still had a lot of fun!

¡Warm saludos to you!  We hope this note finds you well and that spring finds you soon.  We are celebrating Carnaval this month in Bolivia. Many different customs come together in this fiesta, but more than anything it is a time of celebrating life.  In rural areas of the Andes, this is the time to check the potato fields to see if there will be a harvest. If the crop looks promising, people dance and celebrate and decorate the fields with flowers and candy to say thanks.  Here in the city the custom is now to pray a blessing on your home and family, often with a fire and incense.  Afterward people set off lots of fire crackers.  Additionally, each weekend a different section of the city blocks the main streets to celebrate with parades of dancers and boundless water balloon and squirt gun fights.

Jim in his backyard garden
Jim and Karen's bean field

On the Monday before Ash Wednesday our parish community gathered for the yearly Carnaval ritual of checking the fields and praying for good leaders and an end to community discord.  I encouraged the dancers to bless the earth worms as well in gratitude for soil health and the promise of future harvest.  Then, we shared a large meal from the gardens we have been working, including fresh dug potatoes.

On Tuesday we were invited to join our neighbors Benito and Lidia as they prayed a blessing for their home. Benito shared stories of how traditionally people visited the home of those with whom they were in conflict to offer peace and begin a new year together. Unfortunately, this is a tradition that is losing some of its essence, though nearly everyone visits friends and family to participate in giving thanks and asking for blessings. Benito was accompanied by three of his brothers who are all musicians and play the accordion, charrango, guitar and drum. It was fun to join them in singing Carnaval songs.