Carnaval is the main Brazilian festival of the year, an extravaganza, a festival where there are no guests, but everyone is a host. It is a huge performance, where every spectator is a participant. Every year the carnival attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, drawing them into its whirlwind.
Origin and timing of the carnival
Carnival dates back to the Portuguese celebration of “entrudo,” which was celebrated at the end of winter. The holiday had its roots in pagan times and was analogous to Russian Shrovetide. Entrudo marked the arrival of spring and was the last opportunity to have fun before Lent. Participants poured water on each other, threw flour, rotten eggs and tomatoes, symbolically demonstrating wealth and abundance.
The first carnival is considered a grand celebration in early March 1808, when King João VI of Portugal came to Brazil to escape Napoleon’s armies. The ten-day celebration was accompanied by theatrical performances, fireworks, and costumed processions involving royal jesters and courtiers. By the end of the 19th century, the carnival was gaining enormous popularity and a truly popular character.
- In 2016 – February 6 to 9.
- In 2017 – February 25-28
- In 2018 – February 10 to 13.
- In 2019 – March 2-5
- In 2020 – February 22 to 25
How Carnival Happens
Carnival festivities include samba dancer competitions, street parades and festivities. The first samba school appeared in Rio de Janeiro in 1928, from where schools spread throughout Brazil. The incendiary dance absorbed elements of Brazilian, Portuguese, Italian traditions and African dance rituals. Samba is one of the two national passions of Brazilians. Every Brazilian is fanatically devoted all his life to his soccer club and his samba school.
Carnivals are held in all cities of Brazil, and the most famous are in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Salvador, Recife, and Fortaleza. The Salvadoran festival is famous for its Trio Electrico, huge, lushly decorated trucks from which singers and musicians perform. The sound at these concerts is deafening. But the most popular and spectacular is the carnival in Rio. It is attended by up to a million tourists – a third of all visitors to the city in a year.
The festivities in the unofficial capital of Brazil begin with the ceremonial transfer of power for the duration of the festivities by the mayor of the city to the Carnival King elected from the people of Rio. For four days, business and political life comes to a halt. The streets of the cities are filled with people in fantastic costumes and headdresses. Music is played everywhere, and locals enthusiastically accompany it on pots and pans, as well as contests and impromptu concerts. The fun doesn’t stop for a moment and lasts around the clock.
Rio samba school competitions
The most important part of the carnival is the competition samba dancers. Each school puts 2 to 5 thousand participants, preparing for the carnival lasts all year. The best designers create costume designs and the best tailors sew them, the best choreographers invent new dance figures and teach them to future participants, and the best composers compose the tunes to which the school walks through Sambodrome.
The Sambodrom is the broadest street equipped for samba school parades, along which stands up to 70,000 spectators. Tickets cost up to $1,500. The price includes everything a spectator might need, up to and including spa treatments. From the balcony above the Sambodrom is a live TV broadcast of the carnival parade.
The culmination of the festival is the procession of the best samba schools. The parade is led by the queen of the school, who sits on a painted cart surrounded by the best dancers. The samba teachers, famous dancers, artists and athletes follow. Huge puppets tower above the column, and around the defile, dancing, move the students of the school. The dancers do not particularly bother to dress themselves, but the spectacle of beautiful semi-nude bodies cannot shock or offend anyone. In Brazil there is a true cult of physical beauty, and only the best of the best are taken to samba schools.
The procession of one school stretches for half a kilometer, and the passage lasts about an hour. The procession itself is united by a theme, an idea that is declared before the carnival. Usually it’s nature, music, sports and sometimes politics.
The samba schools parade lasts from 9 p.m. to 5 or 6 a.m.. The first two days are reserved for beginner schools and the second for the elite.
Participants in the parade is evaluated by a special jury. Skill of dancers, beauty of costumes, artistic and musical design are considered. The winners are announced by a jury on Wednesday and the Triumphs are honored a few days later with a performance.
Every town and city in the country hosts mass festivities and street parades that bring together without exception Brazilians and visitors lucky enough to be in Brazil during Carnival. Impromptu concert venues, samba competitions of their own, and their own parades spontaneously emerge.
Traditionally, carnival processions take three forms. First, the “kordau,” a rope parade where parade participants line up in a row or a goose-step and dance their way through the streets. Then the street, aka carnival, block, when they line up in a rectangle. And finally, “ranshu”, a theatrical procession in columns, where participants demonstrate elements of African magical rituals.
Contests are organized everywhere, kings and queens are chosen, and stages and street cafes are built. If these days the visitor of Brazil happens to be in a very small town or village – he or she will fully enjoy the festive atmosphere of the carnival. Even if you have tickets to the best seats on Sambodroma – be sure to go down from the podium and away from the main streets. The real popular carnival fun, the very soul of Brazil, is right there.