Carnaval in Brazil: a 200-Year Old Tradition vs Drought

Annual festival of music and dance held 51 days before Easter that starts on a Friday and goes on until Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent (the six-week period before Easter). This year, the festivities start on Friday. Unfortunately severe drought and an ailing economy have forced several cities and towns across the country to abandon their plans for Carnaval. For example in the capital city of Brazilia authorities have cancelled the samba school parade, for the first time since year 1983. Couple of dance events cancelled even in Rio. But brazilians anyway will have opportunity to attend countries biggest celebration of the year.

The roots of Carnival trace back to the ancient Romans and Greeks who celebrated the rites of spring. On certain days of Lent, they traditionally abstained from eating meat, hence the term “carnival,” from either “carne levare” (Latin for “to remove meat”) or “carne vale” (Latin for “farewell to meat”).

Across Europe, including France, Spain and Portugal, people annually gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks and dancing in the streets. Such traditions were carried over to the New World. 

Carnival and other Pre-Lenten celebrations are observed throughout the world from New Orleans’ Mardi Gras to Ecuador’s Fiesta de las Flores y las Frutas, but the Rio de Janeiro Carnival has become the world’s most famous celebration. Although it is exactly the Rio Carnival that is renowned, the celebrations take place all across Brazil. 

During the 19th century, different groups began to add to the celebrations in Rio. Some of them were “Grandes Sociedades” (Great Societies) which were luxurious parades held by aristocrats, and “Ranchos Carnavalescos”, which were the working-class parades. There were also “Cordões” – the less organized groups of lower-class masked and costumed revelers.

The birth of samba music in the country played a crucial role in the formation of what are considered contemporary Carnival celebrations in Rio. During that time, the groups known as Cordões gradually became “blocos” and today, blocos make up the widely popular “Carnaval da Rua” (street parade).

The desire to create more organized blocos gave birth to the “Escolas de Samba” (samba schools) and turned the Carnival into competition. People would not just dress up in costumes but also perform a parade accompanied by an orchestra of strings, drums and other instruments. These ever more organized competitions became the main attractions of the Carnival.

 Here you can see Rio Carnival guide for this year.

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