Easily the most anticipated holiday of the year in Brasil, this weekend’s event basically shuts down the country (with the exception of shopping, carnival workers and tourism industries, as nearly 70% of the country’s visitors come this week). In Rio de Janeiro alone, nearly five million people will participate, including nearly 500,000 from abroad.
While the celebration before Lent is celebrated around the world, nobody does it quite like Brasil. Every major city will host massive parades led by samba schools—dance groups that spend the entire year practicing to compete against one another during Carnival—which are televised and watched by anyone who isn’t there. Smaller cities have their own parades in which anyone can participate, basically turning the entire town into a marching party. Everywhere you look, trios elétricos (trucks equipped with deafening sound systems that drive around blaring samba music) will be driving around, followed by a contingent of people dancing instinctively to the rhythms as if compelled by nature. People sing, people dance, people wear costumes, and people drink. Indeed, it is estimated that this weekend alone will account for nearly 80% of the country’s beer consumption for the entire year.
While the style of celebration varies place to place, the epic nature of each city’s celebration is consistent. In the Southeast (most notably Rio), the festivities are dominated by traditional forms of samba—the enredo, the embalo, the bloco and the marchinha. In the Northeast (most notably Bahia), people enjoy more Afro-Caribbean influenced styles: the frevo, the maracatu, samba-reggae and Axé music.
The thought of an entire nation dancing for an entire weekend is probably unfathomable to most, but once you’ve experienced a Brazilian Carnival, that view may chance. So if the thought of it intrigues you, grab your dancing shoes and let’s go!