There are several contenders for the title of the world's biggest fancy dress party. The following are but a few of the world's more popular fancy dress occasions, with carnivals the world over offering ample opportunity for dressing up.
The tradition of Halloween originated more than two thousand years ago among the Celtic tribes of Ireland. In those days people believed that the spirits of the dead came to walk among the living on the last day of the year, which was October 31st. They would dress up in scary costumes to pass themselves off as spirits and thus avoid harm from the 'real' spirits. The significance of Halloween has changed down the centuries but we still enjoy the excuse to dress up as someone else on this night of the year and the tradition is particularly popular in the US.
St Patrick's Day.
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He brought Christianity to Ireland and is credited with having driven snakes from that country, although this is more likely to be symbolic of driving the 'serpent' of paganism from the land. Besides its traditional meaning as a day of spiritual renewal and of prayer in support of missionaries worldwide, it has become a day of celebrating all things Irish. An estimated 70 million people world-wide can claim Irish ancestry and each year on March 17th they (and many more) celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Parades and events are held worldwide, from Vancouver, Canada to Auckland, New Zealand. People dress in green and celebrate with parades, music and song, Irish food and drink and many other Irish-related activities.
World book day.
Designated by UNESCO as a worldwide annual celebration of books and reading, World Book day is celebrated in over 100 countries around the globe. Throughout the world this is celebrated on 23rd April, which is St. George's day and also the anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. The origin of the day is an 80 year old tradition from Catalonia where roses and books were given as gifts to loved ones on St. George's Day. In the UK and Ireland it is usually celebrated in March to ensure it occurs during school term time. Children go to school dressed as their favourite character from literature.
The Venice Carnival.
Dating back to the 14th century, the original Venice carnival involved everyone in the city. It broke all the rules of society and state and gave the average person the chance to lose themselves in revelry. Wearing masks and fanciful costumes, the people discarded identity, gender and social class and enjoyed parties, shows and musical events. The modern carnival takes place for one week in February each year.
Rugby Sevens in New Zealand.
The New Zealand leg of the IRB (International Rugby Board) Rugby Sevens Circuit is held every year in Wellington. About 50 games are held over two days with each game lasting 14 minutes. There is a carnival atmosphere and a large proportion of the crowd attend in fancy dress.