In the eyes of many, Carnival is the embodiment of Brazilian culture. Most of us have seen the pictures, perhaps heard the music, and think we know what Carnival is all about. But how well do you really know Carnival?
For example, it’s widely understood that Carnival is a celebration before Lent, the Catholic season of 40 days that precedes the Easter holiday. But did you know that this is where the name “Carnival” itself comes from? During Lent, it’s typical for Catholics to abstain from eating meat. At the time of its naming, Italian was a dominant language in Catholic discourse, and in Italian carne levare means “to remove meat.” Interesting, no?
So what else is there to know about Carnival? Sure, there’s music and dancing, but it’s not just people out on the street singing and moving their bodies around. In fact, the festivities associated with Carnival are in many ways quite regimented, falling in line with specific regional traditions.
Let’s look at some examples: In Rio de Janeiro, home of the most famous Carnival activities, the celebration is focused around the music and dance style known as samba. This is perhaps Brazil’s most famous contribution to international culture, and most likely what you see in your head when you picture Brazilian Carnival. This isn’t uniform throughout the country, however. In the Bahia region, Carnival features a strong emphasis on African elements of Brazilian culture and much of the music shows influence from the reggae genre. In Pernambuco, a style of music called frevo permeates the celebrations. Frevo itself is highly influenced by capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, and as such has an entirely different feel from the samba we generally picture in our Carnival fantasies. Meanwhile, in Brazil’s largest city of São Paulo, the main Carnival celebrations take place several days before they do in the rest of the country!
It’s clear then that Carnival is a much more diverse celebration than many foreigners often imagine. Many people from outside Brazil learn this only after visiting Carnival for themselves, which many do—over 400,000 foreigners tend to come for Rio’s Carnival alone. Even if you can’t make it during Carnival, Brazil’s beautifully diverse culture is worth getting to know any time of the year. From Rio to São Paolo to Pernambuco and beyond, Brazil is a cultural hotspot that is not to be missed.
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