Carnival refers to the celebratory period just before Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. The significance of Carnival is that it is the last period of indulgence and merry making before people enter the Lenten season of abstinence.
Celebrated mainly in Roman Catholic countries, some of the most important carnivals around the world, besides the Rio Carnival are the Carnival in Venice, Italy and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, USA, while Spain, New York, Toronto and Trinidad and Tobago also commemorate the event to a smaller extent.
The beginning of Carnival varies in different countries, but the celebrations usually fall in the month of February or early March every year. In Brazil, carnival begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and culminates on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. In America, carnival begins as early as 6th January (Epiphany) and celebrations reach a climax in the 2 weeks prior to Ash Wednesday.
Carnival is Brazil’s most important holiday, when the entire country comes to a standstill for a week. Statistics show that at Carnival time, the country receives 70% of its tourists and consumes 80% of its annual beer consumption. Though Carnival is celebrated with pomp and grandeur in other parts of the country as well, including São Paulo, Recife, Salvador and Olinda, nothing comes close to the festivities of the Rio Carnival. The city’s famous samba schools practice for months to participate at the samba parade competition, the highlight of the entire festival, which is held in the Sambódromo, an area designed especially for this spectacle. Every year each school chooses a particular theme which it represents in all aspects of its performance, including its costumes, floats, samba song etc. Every school’s parade is made up of between 3000 – 5000 people, each playing a particular role in the entire choreography. There are 10 categories on which the schools are judged, including Theme of the Year, Costumes, Harmony, Floats and Props etc. and the winner is announced on Ash Wednesday.
Unlike at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the celebrations mainly consist of parades organized by ‘krewes’ or groups that put together a carnival performance, the Rio Carnival is more accessible by everyone. Around 300 street bands or ‘bandas’ from the various neighborhoods of Rio gather at a particular point and then take to the streets, performing popular Carnival songs along a designated route at a designated time and date. Anybody can join in the resulting singing, dancing and merry making. Cordão do Bola Preta, which parades downtown is one of the more traditional bands. ‘Blocos’ are usually smaller groups that attract more of a neighborhood crowd. They choose a particular theme song every year and just like the samba schools, they meet to rehearse their performances – this usually results in a party as well. Most Bandas and Blocos have humorous names that usually bear significance to the place they come from or where they were created. For example, the Bloco das Carmelitas which is dedicated to the Carmelite nuns of St. Teresa’s arose from a fabricated tale which imagined that one of the nuns had escaped the convent to join in the merrymaking of Carnival. The Barbas or ‘beards’ is called so as it was founded at a Botafogo bar owned by a bearded journalist, while Jardim Botanico’s Suvaco do Cristo or “armpit of Christ” is called so because this group parades in an area that is located directly beneath the right armpit of Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue.
Street parties take place around the city and most of them last for the entire 4 day duration of Carnival Saturday to Tuesday. These parties are open to all – there is no entrance fee. Numerous kiosks surround these areas serving snacks and refreshments to the revelers. The most organized and popular street parties take place at the Cinelandia Square and outside the Sambodromo. Other popular street party venues are the Samba Land, which takes place at the Praca Onze and is officially inaugurated before Carnival and the Arches in the neighborhood of Lapa.
Several venues organize Carnival Balls, which are usually formal affairs, with most of the guests preferring to wear costumes. These balls usually feature traditional samba music played by live bands and percussion groups. Tickets are normally inclusive of an open bar and a buffet meal. The most famous and opulent ball is the Magic Ball, held at the iconic Copacabana Palace Hotel. The Scala nightclub in Leblon has various themed balls for each night of Carnival, such as the Mangueira Carnival Ball which features performances by one of Rio’s most well known samba schools and the City Ball, dedicated to Rio, the marvelous city.
Stay Tuned about Carnival in Brazil!
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