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Carnaval in Brazil


February in Brazil usually goes along with Carnaval, one of the most famous events of my beloved country. Images of the colorful costumes and street parades are very recognizable almost all over the world. Maybe you’ve heard some Samba music or even traveled to Brazil during Carnaval and experienced for yourself this fervorous party that lasts for days on end throughout the whole country. However, very few people understand what Carnaval actually is: Why does it happen? When did it start? How does a whole country stop for a week to dance and get drunk? Even I, who grew up in Brazil, didn’t know the answer for these questions until my adult years. In fact, a lot of Brazilians grow old without knowing why they spend a week per year wearing funny costumes and jumping along with loud music. Therefore, in this article, I will explain a little bit about the origins, the motive and the experience of Carnaval in Brazil.

The word “Carnaval” has its origins in Latin language. “Carne Vale”, means “farewell to meat”. This is because Carnaval originated as a festival that happened 3 or 4 days before a period of religious abstinence of meat and sex, which Catholics call “Quaresma” in Portuguese or “Lent” in english. During this time, people would organize enormous parties and banquets as a form of consolation for the period of abstinence ahead. Versions of this event can be traced all the way back to babylonian times and usually happened also as a celebration of the end of winter in the northern hemisphere. That is why many European countries have their own versions of Carnaval, with the most famous one among them being the Venetian Carnaval, from which much of the modern aesthetics of this event are borrowed.

Carnaval was brought to Brazil initially by Portuguese colonizers under the name “Entrudo” which signifies an “entry” into the period of Lent. Just like everything else that was brought to Brazil, Carnaval mixed itself with all sorts of different cultural traditions from the peoples that inhabited the land, such as the native peoples of Brazil and the African descendants that were brought in as slaves. The latter group contributed the most iconic element of Brazilian Carnaval, Samba music and dance. Although Carnaval looks and sounds different depending on the region of Brazil you go to, the most internationally famous version is the one that happens in Rio de Janeiro. In Rio, Carnaval is all about the competition of the Samba schools, each representing a different neighborhood in the city. These schools spend the whole year crafting songs, decorating cars and coreographing dances that will be shown during a beautiful parade at Avenida Marquês de Sapucaí.


Still a question remains: Why do Brazilians take a whole week of the year to party even if most of them don’t abstain from meat and sex during Lent?

That is very simple. We love music, dance, and parties. It liberates us, and we will take any chance to do it, anytime.

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