It began as a feast before the fast, a celebration before the 40 days of Catholic Lent kicked in. Today, carnival is "about play and a sense of release," says Barbara Mauldin, curator of ¡Carnaval! at Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art.
Depicting traditions in Europe and the Americas, the interactive exhibit features video footage and mannequins in fantastical dress.
Join the party this month. Start with tastings of King's Day cakes at local spots like the Chocolate Maven Bakery (821 W. San Mateo Rd.; 505/984-1980) on January 6, then join a month-long Mardi Gras party or a series of workshops on such crafts as mask- and cape-making. The grand finale is a carnival parade on February 6. Don your costume and strut through town with masqueraders and giant puppets.
¡Carnaval! runs through Aug 28 at the Museum of International Folk Art (closed Mon; $7, $5 New Mexico residents; on Museum Hill off Camino Lejo, Santa Fe; www.moifa.org or 505/476-1200).