Celebrating Carnival in Brazil

Estimated reading time 8 min

The celebration of Carnival in Brazil is one of the world’s most famous festivals. At Rio Carnival, the streets and sounds vibrate with cultural celebrations. Brazilians indulge their senses during this celebration of their history, culture and contemporary desires. If you love to dance and listen to music, Carnival is a must-see in your lifetime. Learn all about the experience known as Carnival so you can plan your visit accordingly.

The History of Carnival in Brazil

The word Carnival, which is translated from Carnaval in Portuguese, comes from the Latin phrase ‘carne vale’, which means farewell to the meat. The festival itself comes from a combination of European pagan traditions and Catholic religious themes. During the Entrudo, it was a food festival that gave all the freedom to indulge in their favorite meats, sweets and other foods one last time before Lent. Lent is approximately 40 days of fasting and frugality that begins on Ash Wednesday. The frugal period ends with Easter.

Carnival in Brazil began centuries ago in 1723 by Portuguese immigrants who came over from Cabo Verde, Madeira and Azores islands. The earliest festival was known as the Entrudo, which was brought by the Portguese from Europe. This was a street party in which locals took to the streets to have massive food fights and mud flinging events. Buckets of water were tossed on people to add to the chaos. Often enough these festivities resulted in street fights and rioting. It would be another century before the Entrudo was organized into more of what we know of Rio Carnival today.

During the 1800s Carnival became more organized. This is when the great societies began to interject into the peasants’ celebrations. The aristocratic Portuguese added their luxurious costumes and masks. Along came the Emperor who also began joining the celebrations. The Africans also participated in the festivities for a cultural explosion of the poor and rich Portuguese and African immigrants. Through their musical heritage, the African community added the signature rhythms and dance moves that round out the Carnival experience.

The festival tradition remains so that every year during the period of Lent all of the cultural groups in Brazil, and in every city and country, get together for a week-long party. While the premise of music, dance and costumes has remained, it has also evolved with the times to keep the festival relevant.

The Invention of Samba

In another century, Carnival took a dramatic turn. In 1917, samba was invented. Samba is a rhythmic dance with 2/4 time that is authentic to the African community in Brazil. Today samba is also known as a connecting force between the former slaves and colonists of the early 20th century in Brazil. 

Samba schools were soon established in the 1920s. The first samba schools were in Rio de Janeiro, but today samba school is based in various cities throughout Brazil. When you think of a samba school you might believe this is a school where you learn to samba. However, this is not the case. A samba school is a dance club where individuals within each school perform a certain type or dialect of samba. Think of it more like samba teams. Some of the most popular samba schools today are Grande Rio, Mangueira, Porto Da Pedra, Beija Flor and Portela. Each school has its own signature style and official colors to help distinguish these from each other. Competitions between samba schools occur during Carnival parades. This tradition kicked off in 1933 and has been a major component of Rio Carnival ever since.

The Costumes of Rio Carnival

In addition to samba, a major component of Rio Carnival is the costumes. The idea behind wearing costumes is everyone in attendance is allowed to pretend for the festival. In fact, social expectations are completely abandoned as individuals can dress and act of any social class and style they choose. Throughout the history of Carnival, it has been common to see men dressed as women, women undressed in various stages, aristocrats as paupers and poor people as royalty. It’s all part of the fun and excitement, and the main way to do this is through costumes. You will see extravagant outfits of every color of the rainbow accessorized by wigs, face painting, feathers, sequins and glitter. It’s an explosion of color with vibrancy booming along with the samba sounds.

What to Expect When You Go to Carnival

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The first thing to consider when going to Carnival in Brazil is this festival takes place in several states. The festival is anytime from the Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday, and up to Ash Wednesday at noon. For example, in 2017 Carnival is from February 24 to March 1, while in 2018 it is from February 9 to February 14. So make sure to plan your trip to Brazil accordingly if you want to be a part of this world famous festival.

Next up you want to choose a festival celebration to attend. Most states host Carnival for a day, some of them on Friday, others on Saturday and many during a single morning or evening. For example, Carnival in Rio is hosted on Sunday and Monday nights, while Sao Paulo’s Carnival in the Anhembi Sambadrome is hosted on Friday and Saturday nights.

One way to choose a city for attending Brazilian Carnival is to pick a preferred samba style that you want to see. Each state and many big cities have its most prominent style. For Rio de Janeiro, the Portela Samba School is the most popular as it has won the greatest number of titles at Carnival parades throughout the years. If you want to go to the most popular cities in Rio de Janeiro, check out downtown Rio, Copacabana, Lagoa, Ipanema, Jardim Botanico, or Leblon. Here the top competitions among the samba schools are hosted.

However, Rio de Janeiro is most popular among Carnival spectators thanks to the parades held in the Sambodrome. Located in Rio, this spectacular event is the highlight of Carnival, in which the best samba schools compete for top prize of the festival. Other styles of Carnival to consider attending include Bahian Carnival in northeastern Brazil; Pernambucan-style in Olinda, Pernambuco; and Espírito Santo in Sambão do Povo that is held a week before Carnival.

What to Do in Brazil for Carnival

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The festivals of Carnival are a major draw for more than half a million tourists who come to experience the sounds and sights each year. This is in addition to the nearly five million Brazilians who partake in the parades and festivities. It is a worldwide cultural celebration and one of the best festivals to showcase a history and heritage of an entire country. In short, Carnival is the greatest party on earth and one you have an invitation to attend.

When you are in Brazil for Carnival you will want to do more than dance and party, as you are in one of the most adventurous countries in South America. Plan accordingly so you can get the most out of your trip. Start by choosing the perfect travel itinerary for when you get to Brazil. Choose the cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Santiago, to round out the best urban areas in Brazil.

Along the way make sure to spend part of your Brazilian vacation touring the tropical jungles, coastal shores and cultural hotspots. A must-see is the Iguazu Falls, which are the world’s largest waterfalls. These falls are tucked in Brazilian jungles, and you can walk among the waters’ spray with a hike in the surrounding area. The magnificent roar of the waterfalls is simply electric, and you can’t miss this when visiting Brazil.

While in Rio de Janiero make it a point to locate the statue titled Christ the Redeemer, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This work of art is perched high upon Corcovado Mountain overlooking the cityscape. Also in Rio is Sugarloaf Mountain, which is accessible by cable cars. Here you gain a bird’s eye view of Rio that is awe inspiring. For beachcombers in Brazil there is plenty of sand and surf among the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, Arpoador, Leblon, Canoa Quebrada, and Porto de Galinhas.

For once in a lifetime experiences, you want to add Fernando de Noronha, a national marine park and Brazilian island, to your itinerary. At Ibirapuera Park you can explore a green recreational mecca that is a showstopper after dark. For cultural experiences visit the Amazon Theater in Manaus where you can enjoy a theatrical performance at this grand opera house located in the rainforest. Speaking of rainforest, nothing is more authentically Brazilian than the Amazon rainforest. One place where you can get out into this jungle environment safely is the Tijuca Forest. Here you are surrounded by waterfalls, caves, hiking trails and picnic parks.

Visit Brazil

Iguazu Falls in Brazil & Argentina

The saying goes that you will visit Brazil for Carnival, but you’ll stick around for the natural beauty and cultural experiences. For a vacation that touches every note from your bucket list at Rio Carnival to once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to step foot on sacred soil of jungles and the Iguazu Falls, a visit to Brazil cannot be beat. Get ready to go to Brazil today by planning ahead so you can take advantage of Carnival in several states. While you are at it, consider traveling around to other states to experience everything that Brazil has to offer. With go-today as your travel leader you are sure to make the most of your Brazilian vacation! So what are you waiting for? Go today with go-today!

 

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