Carnival in Rio De Janeiro, one of the best-known parties in the world, is also the largest carnival celebration in the world. It’s filled with music, parades, drinking and people having fun. The carnival, a national holiday in Brazil, runs from Friday night to noon of the following Wednesday. That’s the official length, but many Brazilians turn it into a 10-day holiday. It brings in about half a million foreign tourists each year.
The carnival can trace its roots back to an ancient Greek festival held each spring to honor Dionysus, the god of wine. The Romans adopted the festival to honor two of their gods, Bacchanalia and Saturnalia. During the Roman festival, slaves and masters would exchange clothes and spend the day in drunken revelry. The Catholic Church later modified the festival as a celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday. It grew into a last hurrah before Lent with its 40 days of trying to improve oneself through prayer and sacrifice.
Rio de Janeiro’s celebration of carnival can be traced back to 1723, according to Ipanema.com. It came to Brazil along with Portuguese immigrants who called it the Entrudo. Entrudo was essentially a giant water fight with people setting out to soak others with water and limes. No one, even royalty, was immune from being drenched. It was eventually outlawed because the authorities didn’t like to see so many people losing control.
In the mid-19th century, Jose Nogueira de Azevedo was a shoemaker who marched through the streets on Carnival Monday playing drums, tambourines and whistles. He welcomed anyone who wanted to join in his march. This eventually became Ze Pereira. The Grandes Sociedades debuted in 1855 as a parade for aristocrats. About 80 members of the upper class, including the emperor, would wear masks and elaborate costumes and parade through town to the beat of music. In 1870, characters were introduced to the festivities, who would perform according to the costume they were given; other participants began to wear oversized papier-mache masks.
Early 20th Century
The parade of floats in today’s Carnival celebration began as an event called Corso in 1907. At that time, it was a parade of cars, a relatively new invention at the time, through the the city. Parade watchers brought streamers and confetti to throw. Another portion of the modern Carnival is the Ranchos Carnavalescos, which began in 1872 but became popular in 1911. In a Ranchos Carnavalescos, participants dressed up in costumes and performed during the parade accompanied by music played by musicians. Their popularity grew as each Ranchos Carnvalesco competed with the others to become more elaborate and entertaining. They are now one of the most popular parts of Carnival. The only time the parades were halted was during WWII, but they resumed in 1947.
The samba, which is the primary music of Rio’s Carnival, was born at Rio. The samba is a ritual Candomble dance to drums and handclaps. At the end of the 19th Century, Tia Ciata, a Candomble priestess, used to have meetings in her home where live music was played while, in the backyard, others danced the samba. The two musical beats eventually combined to form what we call the samba today. The first song that was called a samba was composed in Tia Ciata’s house.
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