It is quite hard for non-Brazilians to understand the size and importance of Carnaval in this country. To start with, here are some facts that might make it easier to grasp how big it really is:
- has its origins in religious rituals;
- lasts only four days (the weekend before Shrove Tuesday – aka Mardi Gras, and the Monday before it);
- is a bigger event than both Christmas and the National Day (Sep 7th);
- is not celebrated in the same way everywhere in the country.
In the olden days, Lent was a period of prayer, fasting and penitence. For the forty days before Easter, Catholic people used to refrain from drinking, eating red meat, having sex and partying in general. Thus, the last day before Ash Wednesday (which marks the beginning of Lent) was a day of heavy partying, drinking, dancing and flirtation. Since the forbiddance of eating meat affected everyone, these celebrations got the name “carnaval”, a blend of the words carne (meat or flesh) and festival.
Although it may seem to last for a long time, it is officially just one day. Most Brazilians choose to work overtime other days so they can take the Monday before the holiday off. Carnaval then becomes a four-day holiday much appreciated by everyone, who often travel to the coast or the countryside to party.
Why is it bigger than both Christmas and the National Day? Well, maybe because many people for many reasons don’t like Christmas, simple as that. The National Day is a different story. September 07th commemorates the date when Brazilian Independence was declared from Portugal. The thing is, this important fact did not happen by the hands of the people, it was the apparently greedy for power Portuguese crown prince D. Pedro who declared independence to seize the power and then become a monarch. Not such a popular day then.
Although Rio has got the biggest reputation for Carnaval celebrations all over the world, it is not what the real party about. The samba parade in Rio is mainly for tourists, most people don’t take part in it. The most fun and interesting celebrations take place in the streets.
The way the majority of the people across the nation like to celebrate Carnaval is by dancing to basically three Brazilian rhythms in the streets. Traditional samba is very big in Rio and in the big cities in the informal street parades. Axé is the type of music most people enjoy, for it has a very strong appeal for the youngest generations. Lately, Brazilian funk has become quite big because of its beats and sexually charged lyrics.
The mixture of Catholicism, Brazilian hot climate (it’s summer in February), African elements (music and dance in Brazil are all of strong African influence) and the lack of a true national day that brings everyone together has made Carnaval so big.
It must be said too that during the long years of economic and political difficulties, this date was probably the only time of the year people could really be happy, forgetting all their problems and just joining the party.
Fun is the word du jour.