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History of Carnival

The fiesta of all fiestas, Carnival, or as Brazilians call it, Carnaval, is four days of colorful music, exotic dancing, heavy drinking, indulgent eating and simply put, complete debauchery.

 

What used to be solely reserved as a religious holiday in Brazil, Carnival, especially in Rio de Janeiro,  has become the world┬┤s largest party. 

 

There are many theories on the origins of Carnival, which is celebrated around the world and in many different fashions every year the four days before Ash Wednesday.  Some theories say it began as a pagan celebration in ancient Rome or Greece, while others say it was designed around the Roman Catholic religion. Under this idea Catholics self-indulge before the no-meating-eating season of Lent, (46 days in which Catholics and Christian orthodox repent for Jesus┬┤ suffering).  In the Italian language, "carne vale," means good bye to flesh and/or meat.  But the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday,  is a time to feast, dance, party and simply let-loose before the six tranquil weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

 

Although Catholisism is the predominate religion in Brazil, it is important to mention that the Brazilian Carnival is not a strong religious outing, to say the least.

 

The first date of carnival activities in Rio de Janeiro are said to be in 1723 when immigrants from the Portuguese islands of A├žores, Madeira and Cabo Verde introduced the entrudo, a prank where revelers throw water, flour and corn starch among other things at one another. Today, this prank is still widely celebrated; so keep an eye out for those ever-popular water ballons coming at you.  

 

In 1928, Rio gave birth to what would someday be the heart of Carnival, the samba school.  But it wasnÔÇÖt until 1930 that then-Brazilian President Getulio Vargas, gave the samba schools an official place in Carnival festivities. Hence, the Samba Parade was born. The three schools to perform that inaugural year were Estacao de Sa, Estacao, Primeira de Mangeira, and Portela.

 

Back then, the parade began on street, Praca XI, then it moved to Av. Presidente Vargas.  In 1984, the Sambodromo, a permananet structure on avenue Marques de Sapucai was built specifically for the samba parade. To this day, the heart of Carnival festivites thrive here on the Sunday and Monday of Carnival.  

 

Another significant part of Rio┬┤s Carnival history is the formal dances held usually on the Saturday night of Carnival.  Carnival balls, as they are called,  began in Italy and were highly regarded social event. These fiestas were inducted into Rio de Janeiro┬┤s Carnival during the late 19th century.  The extremely formal and luxurious parties gained popularity in Rio and saw a heyday from the 1930s to 1950s.  Although Carnival balls are still popular, today, they take on many different forms, including the famous Gay Gala Ball where transvestites, drag queens, homosexuals, and heterosexuals revel away in wild costumes.  The most prestigious ball back then-- and now-- is the Gala Ball, or Magic Ball as some call it.  This high-society ball is held at the historic Copacabana Palace, the hotel it first premired at. During Carnival this party is a catwalk for professional athletes, Government offcials and celebrities.

But as formal balls saw a golden era, it was the development of the younger, robust generation in the 1960s  that helped Rio┬┤s Carnival morph into an soiree where anything goes.  It became a much more commercial, popular, and at that- a populous celebration. Today, it is a full-blown extravaganza that attracts over a quarter of a million foreign visitors each year, catering to all ages, races, sexualities, genders and religions. Revelers come from nearly every corner of Brazil and every pocket of the world.  

 

 

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Brazil: History and Politics,








23 Nov 2006




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