The Brazilian Carnaval has its roots in Europe, in the Portuguese Entrudo celebrations back in the 13th century. This very popular party took place before the Christian Lent to allow everybody to enjoy themselves before the 40 day period that preceded Easter. Fast-forwarding a few centuries, we see the same Entrudo has found a place in the Brazilian hearts and minds. The Catholic Church tried unsuccessfully to dismiss the event, but its best efforts allied with the local elite managed only to banish the old celebration, making room for the Carnaval we all know today. The word Carnaval literally means “to remove the flesh” in a reference to the Christian tradition to abstain from the consumption of meat and poultry prior to Easter.
Initially a spontaneous popular manifestation, this celebration was adopted during the 50′s by the Brazilian Government for political gain. Ever since, the Carnaval has become more organised and the State began to use censorship against samba song writers that used their lyrics to oppose the Government.
Today the Carnaval is also a big business. The top 13 Samba Schools in Rio de Janeiro spent around €2 million each in 2012 to produce their presentations that lasted little over one hour. Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and Sao Paulo holds the biggest Carnaval celebrations in the country and expect a turnover of €1 Billion this year. Last year the local economy in Rio de Janeiro benefited nearly €400 Million.
Big numbers apart, the Carnaval is a time of the year when the profane has its reign and where everybody dresses up as a character and enjoy themselves before the time to repent. Its an international party that borrows from France’s hegemonic Carnaval, from Portugal’s theatrical Carnaval and percussion and also the Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin characters from the Italian Commedia Dell’Arte. It is, in essence, a massive popular festive season which welcomes everybody, despite their place in society, to join the celebration of the pleasures of life to its fullest Time to forget about the dull everyday routine, dress up, dance and celebrate life like there is no tomorrow. All this conveniently placed just before the divine Lent, just in time to seek enlightenment to the soul.
Written by Chrystian Schadler for ChildFund Ireland in 2013
* Portuguese spelling