The global celebration of Carnival is winding down, and we are envious of our colleagues taking part in undoubtedly the most famous celebration of Brazilian CARNAVAL.
There is some debate regarding the true origin of the word – some say it is linked to the Christian tradition of not eating meat preceding Easter, from the Latin word carnelevamen (restrain from meat), which later was modified to carne, vale (goodbye meat). Others say that in ancient Rome, to pay tribute to God Saturn, there was a celebration on the streets with a parade featuring floats that resembled ships – carrum navalis – where the expression was derived from.
Regardless of theories, I caught up with my Brazilian colleagues some fun facts about the party that puts the country on hold and bewitches the population and visitors alike:
- The most spectacular and famed expression of Carnaval takes place in Rio de Janeiro, with the renowned luxurious samba school parades. The elite league of samba schools traditionally parade on Carnaval’s Sunday and Monday at the Sambodromo – starting in the evenings and finishing in the early morning – each school has 60 minutes to parade – penalties are applied in the competition if they run over time. The event is televised live to the whole country and is one of the most amazing experiences one can have to watch or be part of it – for its contagious vibe, music creativity and amazing craftsmanship. Sao Paulo has the second most famous parades with samba schools presentations on Friday and Saturday.
- Both Rio and Sao Paulo also have the “Blocos,” which are celebrations on the streets, open to whoever wants to join. The Blocos were the first expressions of Carnaval, feature live music (although in a smaller scale than the samba schools) and date back from the 1800s. Basically, people gather around a group with instruments to dance, sing and have a good time.
- Other very famous popular celebrations are in the Northeast of Brazil, in the cities of Olinda and Salvador. These have grown tremendously over the last decades and draw millions of people to the streets under the rythyms of Frevo and Axe. In Salvador (Bahia), instead of samba schools, there are the Trio Eletricos, which are large motorized stages usually on the back of huge trucks equipped with extremely potent speakers. Each Trio takes 4 to 7 hours to parade with restless followers singing and dancing along the whole time!
- The largest (and one of the most traditional) Samba school in Rio is Mangueira, founded in 1928. Last year, it had 4,000 members representing the school in the parade – 500 of them playing the drums.
- To get a feel for the backstage of Carnaval preparations, watch Orfeu Negro (Black Orchid); a movie that depicts the intensity of Rio’s Carnaval. For family fun together capturing the Carnaval and samba mood, watch Disney’s Rio.
- Samba has its origin from African roots and rythms and is associated with pounding drums and a powerful and contagious beat that makes it impossible not to want to move; it surely touches even the most reserved individuals. Watching a samba school play is a very cool experience to say the least.