It was early in the day when we were driving back from the beach. We noticed a huge gathering of people of brightly costumed people posing for photos in a local park.

We pulled off the road, parking next to a post with one of the many Carnaval decorations enhancing the malecon along the Caribbean.

The festive group of men, women and children proudly and enthusiastically showed off their Carnaval attire that they would wear in the several parades that comprise Carnaval.

With roots in pagan times, Carnaval is celebrated in the time before Lent, a fasting period for Roman Catholics before Easter.

Here in Cozumel, Carnaval consists of official dance contests and masquerade balls with unofficial events hosted by restaurants and individuals. Three parades move slowly along the malecon, eventually turning at the end and using both lanes of the boulevard.

Standing in the median of the boulevard provides the ultimate view of all the floats heading in both directions. And along with the view comes the cacophony of the loud music that emanates from the ratcheted speakers on the floats.

Vendors selling balloons, cotton candy and toys cruise the streets, before police cars arrive to signify the start of the parade. The grand master decked out in satiny white tails follows and the first float creeps slowly behind him.

Organizations, hotels and commercial entities enter floats that are full of children and adults. Cozumel Carnaval forgoes the debauchery of other celebrations and includes even babies dressed in costumes and participating in the procession.

This isn’t the rowdy Mardi Gras celebration your mind immediately conjures. In fact, Cozumel’s Carnaval is about as family-friendly as it can get.

Spectators quietly and orderly watch the procession, only demonstrating a surge of expectation when the occasional string of beads, piece of candy or rose is tossed to the ground. Shouts of “Throw me something” are not commonly heard as floats pass by.

Fireworks light the sky at the end of the parade. Each parade is a practice for the next parade and the grand finale event, which will take place on Mardi Gras. We are anxiously anticipating that parade and especially hoping that somebody will throw us something!

Editor’s note: Theresa caught two t-shirts and candy at the Mardi Gras parade.