While Carnaval is celebrated globally (and all across Brazil), arguably no-one does it better than the city of Rio de Janeiro. The four-day celebration is considered an official holiday — and pre-pandemic, up to 2 million revelers would gather in the city streets to enjoy music, dancing, or of course, the show-stopping costumes and elaborate parade floats. Some even tease that the year doesn’t officially start until Carnaval does.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, many Brazilians will be celebrating virtually and some states are even pushing back in-person celebration July — but to us, February always embodies the festive spirit and rhythm of Rio. Most of us know the legend behind the biggest party of the year, but not the actual history. Keep scrolling for a mini-lesson in all things Brazilian Carnaval.
Beyond the brilliant visuals (and vibe), there’s a deeper meaning behind the global celebration. Traditionally, Carnaval is held annually the week leading up to lent — a period of abstinence from life’s indulgences, for example, meat or alcohol.Think of it, as the last “hurrah” before the quiet, religious season that spans 40 days until Easter Sunday.
Over time, the meaning of Carnaval has transitioned from a Catholic-centric holiday to a highly anticipated global event that brings awareness to both historical and environmental issues via creative costumes, music, food, and more.
Samba (a.k.a) the soundtrack of Brazil, is a popular musical style with deep African roots favored year-round, but particularly during Carnaval season. Each year, the best samba schools across the country face off for the title of Rio Carnaval Champion — typically musicians rehearse all year long to showcase their perfectly synchronized sound at the Sambadrome, which can seat 80,000 visitors. Other popular music genres include bossa nova, folkloric maracatu – and even country music!
You can’t speak about Carnaval without touching on the exotic, mesmerizing costumes that complement the sounds of Samba. Here, women take center stage as Carnaval Queens, a coveted position as the most talented and beautiful samba dancer leading each individual band. Other important roles? The Porta Bandeira (a.k.a. the flag bearer of the samba school) and her companion called the Mestre Sala, another master of ceremonies who helps facilitate public dances (or balls) and showcases their moves as well.
Ways to Celebrate
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We may not be together this Carnaval season, but the pillars of the celebration still remain intact: optimism, joy, delight, and culture. We look forward to Brazilian Carnaval returning again bigger and better than ever.
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