On Carnivals and Pancakes

Amazing carnival image from Fabio Gismondi

Carnival, Carnaval – whatever you call it, this February festival has Pagan roots. Some claim it started with the Roman worshipping of the deity Saturn (a festival called Saturnalia) and there are signs that it pre-dates this in a festival known as Lupercalia, dedicated to fertility, which in turn had subsumed a spring cleansing festival called Februa (from where the name February comes).

Although its roots are almost certainly European (Venice’s Carnevale brings out the full colour of the place, notable for its distinctive masks), carnival adopts huge importance in certain parts of the World, notably the Americas, with adaptations reflecting local history and culture.

Rio’s Carnival is one of the largest in the World, a six day party with millions in the streets, but the rest of Brazil is partying too; Bolivia and Mexico have massive celebrations; Quebec parties in the snow; and the Mardi Gras in New Orleans has its unique style. For different people these festivals mean different things, and many attract huge numbers of tourism.

Whilst important carnivals happen at other times of the year, and in other parts of the world, the February carnivals are noted for their end as much as for their duration. The roots of the word are almost certainly from ‘carne’ (meat) with the second half translating as ‘gone’ or ‘forbidden’ (either way, inaccessible). In Greece, where the Greek Orthodox calendar dictates dates, the carnival tradition even includes ‘Burnt Thursday’ (Tsiknopempti), a huge meat grilling fest  celebrated eleven days before the start of Lent.

The huge festivities are followed by Lent – traditionally a time of abstinence for Christians in the six week run up to Easter. (Many places celebrate Shrove Tuesday today by cooking pancakes – a ritual designed to use up eggs and milk which would go off over the fasting period lasting 40 days to Easter.)

Whether the festivities originated in a final fling of plenty or simply as a way to use up what could no longer be consumed before Lent, what is important in a work context is to know how important these festivities are to work colleagues in other countries.


Carnival and Lent as clues for virtual workers

How people choose to celebrate the festivals is telling: for some dancing in the street and music, or being close to family and/or community will be important. For others, (over) indulging in food and drink or partying hard through the night will be their ‘carnival’.

How things are celebrated locally and how individuals choose to celebrate both Carnival and Lent offer up vital clues to the values and character of people we work with remotely. Knowing the importance of a particular festival to them, ensuring practicalities like taking time off are scheduled into projects can prevent problems later. Whilst traditional management wisdom may dictate that such time spent ‘gossiping’ is time wasted, when working remotely or in virtual teams, internal or external, making time for colleagues who don’t work in the same office as you to share their experiences can pay dividends.

Culture is a tangible, logical thing, as are personality traits. These are obvious when someone is working with you regularly. People in Rio or New Orleans, for example, may take it for granted that because others, worldwide, have heard of their festivals, they’ll know when and where they are and make allowances when communicating and planning. People around them in the office will automatically factor the big festivals in. They may not think to tell you: it’s hard to know what others don’t know.

When you work apart, sharing ‘gossip’, taking time to hear about colleagues experiences, may be some of the best clues you have as to how best to work together personally, culturally and practically.

We’d love to hear your examples of where this has – or hasn’t proved to be the case.

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