Brazil Travel

History of Carnival

The big and colorful Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro The origins of Carnival can be tracked centuries back to Greek celebration honoring the God of Wine Dionysus. This festival influenced the creation of Bacchanalia, a tribute to Bacchus, the Roman equivalent to Dionysus. Inspired, the Saturnalia fête developed (Saturnalia literally translates into excess of the senses) leading to the Catholic Church using the fiesta as a lead up to Lent. All of these festivities contribute to the present day event we know as Carnival, a yearly celebration of the joy of life.

In tribute to King Momo, the King of the Carnaval, people join in merry-making revelry as they prepare to begin abstinence throughout the 40 days of Lent. The roots of the Carnival can be traced back to 1723 when settlers from the Portuguese Islands initiated the Entrudo, a street game of water, mud, and food tossing which involved everyone in the city. In 1840, the first of the balls took place - a masquerade ball where dancing to polka and waltzes kept people moving throughout the event. Street parades became part of the festivities about ten years later, leading to the samba (a fusion of European, African, and Cuban music) merging into the familiar sounds of Carnival by 1917. In 1928, the Samba School surfaced as part of the Carnival culture influencing the founding of Samba Parade held in the streets of Rio. The Sambodromo was built in 1984 to house the parade. You can hear the passion of the Carnival beating during Carnival Sunday and Monday. One more element of Carnival is the balls or dances, originated in Italy, taking on various shapes from the public Cinelandia Ball to the lavish Gala Ball.

While looking and participating in all the carousing of Carnival, one cannot help but notice the African influence on the culture. Over six million slaves came to Brazil, leaving their imprint on movement, sound, and savory fare. Many of the costumes seen at the balls and parades include bones, feathers, and grass, reminiscent of African traditions. The presence of feathers symbolizes the strength to prevail over adversity and resistance while becoming a strong, divine person. Listening to the musical beats of the Carnival music presents another layer of the African influence as well as the presence of an indispensable element of the celebration.

Being part of Carnival, past or present, provides an opportunity for all to celebrate together - young, old, rich, poor. In ancient times, the Saturnalia Gala included a chance for the masters and slaves to trade clothes and positions, attempting to understand each other's life and, for a day, come together as equals. Currently, the joining of people is witnessed in the neighborhood parades, public balls, and Samba Schools.

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