Brazil Carnival – Part 1 – Rio de Janeiro

Say the word Carnival to almost anyone in the world, and they think Brazil! If you love Carnival, you have to at the very least be fascinated by Brazil.

Carnival in Brazil sets the bar for all of the pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations in the world. Carnival was originally a pagan custom during which the people would celebrate the arrival of spring. Christian culture with all its restrictions was still hard pressed to do away with the popular custom and instead incorporated it into their religious traditions. Brazil Carnival begins four days before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the Lenten season. During Lent, Christians prepare for Easter Sunday by fasting or giving up their favorite foods,drinks and activities. Many Christians give up meat until Easter. Carnival is a great way to cut loose and enjoy life before Lenten restrictions are imposed.

Each Brazilian city has its own celebratory traditions. Most of them include masquerades, parades, feasts, social gatherings, and dancing. The samba and rumba music and dance are a large part of the festival. Brazil Carnival’s most elaborate parades are designed to showcase samba school performances. Brazil Carnival performers get into their roles with the assistance of very elaborate costumes. Designers work up to eight months in advance making the costumes by hand. Brightly colored parrot feathers, beads, satins and sequins are the typical materials used for the costumes.

In the mid 1600’s Rio de Janeiro’s bourgeoisie adopted the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Parisians. Originally, they copied the European type festival, but gradually the local elements derived from the Native American and African cultures of the area.

In the late 1900’s, pageant groups known as cordões paraded through the city playing instruments and dancing. They are known as Blocos today, and consist of groups of people dressed in costumes or theme t-shirts and an entourage of revelers from particular neighborhoods.

Blocos are a huge part of Rio’s Carnival with 100 groups and the number increases every year. Blocos can be formed by small or large groups of revelers. They parade in nearly every neighborhood, the most famous parades are in Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, and in downtown Rio.

Samba schools play a big part in Brazilian Carnival. They are very large groups of dancers, financed by respected organizations that work year round to prepare for Carnival. The Samba Schools perform in the Sambadrome, and the performances last for four nights. There is an official competition, where a single school is declared the winner, based on costume, flow, theme, band music quality and performance. Many samba schools also hold local street parties in their own neighborhoods and parade in full costume along with their followers.

This site is an amazing site for information on Rio’s Carnival.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Deep Brazil says:

    This is a pretty interesting and complete post. But let me tell you something: Escolas de Samba are normally not sponsored by “financially respected organizations”. Most of their presidents are “banqueiros do bicho” – promoters of an illegal gambling network that is particularly strong in Rio. There is also lots of drug money mixed with more “honorable” sources. But, it is true that, even if the origin of the huge amounts spent in Carnival is frequently doubtful, it generates tens of thousands of jobs all year long and produces a great outlet for popular creativity.

    1. I dared not delve into the “questionable” network of financing that is part of the Rio Carnival. Tried to stay on the bright side of things!

      1. Deep Brazil says:

        No problem with me! It is indeed a tough topic and, as I said, the money is used in a pretty amazing way. You have a great website. Thanks!

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