British Traditions

Notting Hill Carnival

Hi, there!

Have you ever been to the Notting Hill Carnival? I was lucky enough to feel its spirit of freedom, to taste and smell it from inside. I was overwhelmed by its vibrant atmosphere, diversity of colours, music and, of course, people! And now I want to share with you, my dear readers, some breathtaking moments of this stunning event! You can also watch my video about the Carnival here.

Every August London is home to the great Notting Hill Carnival – the largest arts festival in Europe and second largest carnival in the world after the carnival in Rio de Janiero [ˈriːəʊ də dʒəˈnerəʊ] , Brazil. The carnival is an important cultural event for London’s Afro-Caribbean community and celebration of multi-cultural British life. It is open to everyone and is absolutely free!

London street party

Notting Hill Carnival

The tradition to hold the carnival began in 1964 and it has taken place since then every year on the Sunday and Monday of the August Bank Holiday. Giant throngs of people fill the streets of London during the event to dance to the rhythm of steel drums and join the party.


Public holidays in the UK are generally referred to as bank holidays due to the 4 days so designated by the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. The name is now used as a blanket term for all public holidays in the UK as banks, government offices and most businesses are closed on these days, although an increasing number of smaller shops and larger retail businesses remain open.

Source: www.             

The roots of the carnival

This great festival has its roots in the carnivals of the Caribbean, especially Trinidad.  In Trinidad today, the carnival is the main event in the calendar. All work stops and crowds move through the streets, dancing and singing and wearing all sorts of wild costumes. But it hasn’t always been that way.

In the 1800s, during the days of slavery and the British Empire, many black slaves were brought to Trinidad from Africa. They worked on sugar plantations and their life was very hard. Their white masters didn’t allow them to sing, dance or wear their national costumes. They were even forbidden to be in the streets after dark. The only time the slaves were allowed to play musical instruments was during the imported European Carnival that was held six weeks before Easter. But even then, black people could only take part in it to entertain their white masters.

In 1833, when slavery was abolished, the slaves stormed to the streets to celebrate their freedom. The slaves who had had cruel masters made masks and costumes to make fun of them. It was their first real opportunity to express their feelings about slavery and they did it through dancing and singing.

детский день карнавала

Children's day

Soon people from all over Trinidad started to take part in these street celebrations. They became experts in the art of costume making, steel drumming and calypso (a folk song telling a story).

In the 1950-60s many Trinidadians emigrated to Britain in the hope of getting a job and making a home. They made good nurses, conductors and drivers, but many of them were unemployed. Life was hard for them as there was a lot of racism and inequality. Besides, they missed the warmth and the blue skies of the Caribbean. So one day, remembering their great festivals back home, the Trinidadians decided to organise a street procession in Notting Hill to boost their spirits.

root  [ruːt] – корень

the Caribbean  [kəˈrɪbiən] – Карибские острова

Trinidad  [ˈtrɪnɪdæd] – остров Тринидад

slave  [sleɪv] – раб

slavery  [ˈsleɪvəri] – рабство

master   [ˈmɑːstə] – хозяин

to forbid (forbade, forbidden) [fəˈbɪd] – запрещать

Easter   [ˈiːstə] – Пасха

to entertain  [ˌentəˈteɪn] – развлекать

to abolish  [əˈbɒlɪʃ] – отменять

steel drumming   [stiːlˈdrʌmɪŋ] – игра на стальных барабанах

calypso   [kəˈlɪpsəʊ] – калипсо (разновидность песни)

conductor  [kənˈdʌktə] – кондуктор

unemployed  [ˌʌnɪmˈplɔɪd] – безработный

inequality  [ˌɪnɪˈkwɒlɪti] – неравенство

to make fun of smb – высмеивать кого-либо, потешаться над кем-либо

They made good nurses – Из них получались хорошие сиделки

to boost one’s spirits – поднимать настроение 

Nowadays Carnival

Some people trace Carnival to the parties that Claudia Jones, a feminist, political activist and journalist, organized in the wake of the 1958 race riots. In 1965 Rhaune Laslett, the leader of the London Free School, revived the traditional Notting Hill Annual Fair. As a part of a week events, a pageant toured the Grove, was led by a man masquerading as Queen Victoria. From that small procession through the streets with just a few people in costume playing music and dancing in the 1960s, a huge multi-cultural arts festival has evolved. Up to two million people attend it every year!

Today’s festival has many of the original elements of the Trinidad Carnival. The most popular of these are the costume parade (also known as Mas, from Masquerade), the calypso and soca bands. Soca is a more recent musical form and is very popular. It is a mixture of soul and calypso. It is now the music of Notting Hill Carnival. Musicians and artists from all over the world take part in the Carnival.

оркестр стальных барабанов

Steel drumming

The other thing that the Carnival is famous for is food. You can try out goat curry, fried bananas, coconut juice, and the legendary jerk chicken.

The motto of the Notting Hill Carnival is “Every spectator is a participant”, so tourists and visitors are invited to join in and dance.

There is only one group of people who don’t enjoy the Carnival and these are the policemen. For them, the Carnival is two days of very hard work. With a busy event like that, safety of participants is very important. Each year the police issue a list of recommendations for the Carnival – avoid dense crowds, leave early, respect the locals, don’t buy drinks off illegal vendors – that kind of thing.

But what about the real carnivalists? How do they maximise  their bank holiday weekend enjoyment?

Now let’s have a look at some of them:

Bill Lynch, 30 Stallholder: “Have fun and no preconceived ideas – just go and enjoy yourself. There’s something for everyone.”

Bert, age unknown, Member of The Ebony Steel Band: “The girls shouldn’t wear shorts because there are men who get drunk and cause trouble…”

Orion Best, 25, Photographer: “Find a good sound system and stay there.”

Lucy Brown, 23, Student: “Bring bouncy shoes and an umbrella – just in case!”

Peter Jeffries, 31, Trader: “Travel light. Bring enough for a couple of drinks and go to see bands.”

Wiggles, 27, DJ/Producer: “Keep your expectations low. Get drunk and be friendly.”

Temra Francis, 40, Photographer: “Fallow a band. Try to understand their meanings, and themes, because carnival is truly about freedom and expression.”

Tania Edwards, 32, Bookseller: “Go with someone who lives in the area, cause you need somewhere to retreat.”

So, follow the advice and have a good time!

The Mas

Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, enjoying the festival

Quiz Time



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