Carnaval in Brazil: Rio and beyond – BBC Travel

Carnaval in Brazil: Rio and beyond - BBC Travel KIA Carnival



There are several major differences between Carnival in the state of Bahia in Northeastern Brazil and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The musical styles are different at each carnival; in Bahia there are many rhythms, including samba, samba-reggae, axé, etc.

In the 1880s, the black population commemorated the days of Carnival in its own way, highly marked by Yoruba characteristics, dancing in the streets playing instruments. This form was thought of as “primitive” by the upper-class white elite, and the groups were banned from participating in the official Bahia Carnival, dominated by the local conservative elite. The groups defied the ban and continued to do their dances.

By the 1970s, four main types of carnival groups developed in Bahia: Afoxês, Trios Elétricos, “Amerindian” groups, and Blocos Afros. Afoxês use the rhythms of the African inspired religion, Candomblé. They also worship the gods of Candomblé, called orixás.

An Electric Trio is characterized by a truck equipped with giant speakers and a platform where musicians play songs of local genres such as axé. People follow the trucks singing and dancing. The “Amerindian” groups were inspired by Western movies from the United States.

The groups dress up as Native Americans and take on Native American names. Blocos Afros, or Afrogroups, were influenced by the Black Pride Movement in the United States, independence movements in Africa, and reggae music that denounced racism and oppression. The groups inspired a renewed pride in African heritage.[19]

Today, Bahia’s carnival consists mostly of Trios Elétricos, but there are still Blocos Afros and Afoxês. Every year, about half a million tourists are attracted to Salvador. It is also possible to watch everything from the Camarotes (ringside seats) spread out along the way, offering more comfort to the visitors.

Brazil travel

I want your trip to Brazil to be unique.
That’s why I’ve created several resources that, together with this Brazil
holiday guide, will be handy while planning your vacation.

So after reading this article about the major Brazilian holidays, take a look at things you can do in the country.

Moreover, don’t miss my article on the
most essential Brazil travel tips, which is an excellent resource for
first-time visitors.

If this will be your first time in Brazil, check out my Brazil trip planning guide and the best vacation packages in Brazil.

For transportation, check out my guide
to avoiding taxi scams in the country.

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Carnival and coronavouchers: brazil’s economic struggles

By Katy Watson
BBC South America correspondent, São Paulo

They call it the greatest spectacle on earth and for Brazil, carnival is everything.

While Rio de Janeiro’s carnival is Brazil’s most famous, cities such as São Paulo have in the past few years been starting to make a name for themselves.

With a spectacle of such proportions, preparation is everything and samba schools would normally already be getting ready for next year’s carnival, due to be held in February 2021.

Currently, São Paulo’s carnival parade – the highlight of the festivities – has already been delayed by eight months until October 2021.

But depending on how the crisis unravels, there is no guarantee it will not be delayed further. There are question marks over what Rio’s plans are, too.

At this point of the year, Imperio da Casa Verde, one of São Paulo’s leading samba schools, would have already planned their storyline and started thinking about the costumes, ready to start the physical training in October.

But this year, the samba school’s warehouse has fallen silent. The floats from February’s revelries are yet to be fully dismantled. A massive furry tiger, the school’s symbol, stands at the door, about seven metres (23ft) high and 15 metres long. A symbol, too, of how time has stood still for these past few months.

“It’s hugely difficult,” says Sergio Luis de Oliveira, who is head of harmony at Imperio da Casa Verde. “We have families who directly or indirectly depend on carnival and without knowing for sure if carnival is going ahead, all our staff are furloughed, they can’t work.”

Mr Oliveira says that without a vaccine, he cannot see carnival being viable and the future is uncertain.

“The economic effect is huge,” says Mr Oliveira. “Carnival generates huge revenue not just for a city but for the neighbourhood, too. When you think of the water sellers, the popcorn, the industries that feed into the samba school – I can’t even measure the damage.”

Carnival is probably the most well-known casualty of Brazil’s economic crisis. Tourism represents about 8% of Brazil’s GDP. But businesses in all sectors across the country have been struggling.

Between March and April, Brazil’s industrial production fell nearly 20%, the largest drop on record.

Julio Cesar has suffered from that fallout. He used to have a full-time job in a clothes factory and he supplemented that income with making costumes for carnival.

He does however receive 600 reais ($107; £82) in the form of a monthly government handout for informal workers.

“The government help went some way but I have to choose what my money goes towards each month – rent, bills or food,” says Mr Cesar.

Mr Cesar used to dream of buying a house or a car, even having his own studio. But he cannot see how he can do that now.

“I won’t give up though. We can’t lack hope – the only thing people of humble means can do is fight to survive.”

Mr Cesar is one of more than 60 million people who have received the so-called “coronavoucher”. Experts say that it has helped soften the blow of the pandemic in Brazil.

But it has also helped boost President Jair Bolsonaro’s approval ratings, the biggest example of that being in the poor north-east of the country, a region that was traditionally very supportive of leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva because of his social welfare support. But now, far-right Jair Bolsonaro has become an unexpected saviour there.

“Given how substantial the cash relief programme was in terms of Brazilian average income, half of the population was able to end up with an income higher than what they had when the pandemic arrived,” explains economist Laura Carvalho.

But it comes at a price. According to President Bolsonaro, the programme costs R$50bn ($8.9bn; £6.8bn) a month. And considering how popular it has made him, it will not be an easy programme to put a stop to.

“He’s a very authoritarian person and it’s a risk for Brazilian democracy – and if he gets popular with his handouts, it’s even worse,” says Marcelo Kfoury of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.

“We might start to see something similar to what happened in Venezuela with Chávez,” he says, referring to the former Venezuelan leader who gained wide popularity with his country’s poor through generous handouts, but who is accused by his critics of undermining Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaging its economy.

For several years, Brazil had slowly been climbing out of a deep economic crisis and then came another hard blow. Between the start of the pandemic and mid-July, more than 700,000 businesses closed down – 99.8% of those businesses had fewer than 49 employees.

There is no clearer evidence of this downturn than the increasing number of unemployed people begging for food at traffic lights.

As the country slowly reopens, businesses and experts are assessing the economic damage.

“The discourse from the government from the start was that it wasn’t responsible for the economic crisis,” says Laura Carvalho.

Ms Carvalho says that the government instead blamed state and local governments and the lockdowns they imposed for the economic downturn.

“Obviously there is an attempt to transfer responsibility of this crisis,” she says. “And it’s also why state governors and mayors ended up reopening quickly because there’s a lot of pressure to reopen.”

Brazil’s economy is expected to shrink by 5.7% this year and most experts agree that Brazil’s crisis would have been worse if the most vulnerable had been left with nothing.

But what now? Inevitable austerity measures in the years ahead mean Brazilians will be paying for the pandemic for years to come.

And the political blame game is yet to get properly started.


Frevo is a wide range of musical styles originating from Recife and Olinda, Pernambuco, Brazil, all of which are traditionally associated with Brazilian Carnival. The word frevo is said to come from frever, a misspeaking of the Portuguese word ferver (to boil).

The frevo music came first. By the end of the 19th century, bands from the Brazilian Army regiments based in the city of Recife started a tradition of parading during the Carnival. Since the Carnival is originally linked to religion, they played religious procession marches and martial music, as well.

A couple of regiments had famous bands that attracted many followers and it was just a matter of time to people start to compare one to another and cheer for their favorite bands. The two most famous bands were the Espanha (meaning Spain), whose conductor was of Spanish origin, and the 14, from the 14th regiment. The bands started to compete with each other and also started playing faster and faster, louder and louder.

Minas gerais

Carnival in Minas Gerais is often characterized by blocos carnavalescos with varying themes and costume styles, typically accompanied by a brass and drums band. The carnival has been heavily influenced by the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, and several cities hold parades with samba schools.

More recently, Axé groups from Bahia come to play in the state.
The most traditional carnival parades happen in the historic cities of Ouro Preto, Mariana, São João del Rei, and Diamantina.

Since the 2021s, the carnival in the state capital Belo Horizonte has increased heavily in popularity,
Other cities in the state, such as Juiz de Fora, Abaeté, Pompéu, and Três Pontas, also have popular parades.

holidays in april

Friday (varying dates)

Just like other western countries, Good
Friday in Brazil happens on the Friday before Easter.

On this date, many families have lunch
together, and plenty of them still prepare a codfish dish as a millennial
Christian tradition.

However, it’s important to note that
many of them also prepare it because the dish is delicious, not because they’re
practicing their religion.

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During Easter, bank offices are usually
closed, subways operate for slightly shorter periods, shops are either closed
or only open for half period, and bike lanes are open during working hours.

(varying dates)

Again, like in other western countries,
Easter in Brazil happens on the first Sunday after the full moon of the Spring,
or in Brazil’s case, of the Fall.

Families usually gather in a hearty
lunch followed by easter egg games for the children.

Day – April 21st

This Brazilian holiday pays homage to the execution anniversary of Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, a dentist known as Tiradentes.

He fought for Brazil’s independence from Portugal but was executed on April 21st, 1972.

For this reason, his actions were recognized as heroic. Years after Joaquim’s execution, this Brazil national holiday was created, and his hometown changed its name to celebrate this prominent historical figure.

Tiradentes is a beautiful colonial town.

Tiradentes town in Minas Gerais
Tiradentes is a Brazilian holiday and a lovely town in Minas Gerais

holidays in november

Souls’ Day – November 2nd

The celebration of All Souls is vital
for some religions, especially Catholics, as it pays tribute to all loved ones
who have passed away.

On this date, cemeteries get crowded and
filled with flowers as many people will stop by to say prayers in the graves of
family or friends.

Day – November 15th Brazilian national holiday

On this day in 1889, Marshal Deodoro da
Fonseca declared Brazil a republic after a military coup d’ état to the Empire
led by him.

The event took place in Rio de Janeiro,
the capital of the country at the time.

Awareness Day – November 20th

This day is to celebrate and honor the
black community about their great worth and contribution to the development of
the Brazilian cultural identity.

November 20th was the chosen date
because it honors Zumbi, a free African who was enslaved at the age of six.

He would later return to his homeland
and be the leader of the Quilombo of Palmares, a settlement of fugitive slaves.
Zumbi died on November 20th, 1695.

Although the date and symbology are
beautiful, many Brazilians question the historical purpose of this date because
Zumbi is said to have had slaves himself.

Over 1,000 municipalities consider it a
national holiday, but not all.

holidays in october

Lady of Aparecida Day – October 12th

Many readers ask me, “Does Brazil have
any special holidays?” and the Our Lady of Aparecida Day is the most
significant one.

That’s because she is the patroness of
Brazil. Legend has it that the statue was found by three fishermen who
miraculously found loads of fish after praying for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Hence, the name of the saint. Aparecida
means the one who appeared in Portuguese.

Also, one of the reasons she quickly
became adored by locals, especially Afro-Brazilians, is because she has dark

And although many churches were
dedicated to her, the most significant ones are the Brasília’s cathedral and
the National Basilica. The latter is the world’s second-largest basilica.

The Cathedral of Brasilia is dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida, a Brazilian holiday
The Cathedral of Brasilia is dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida


Some southern cities such as Uruguaiana, Florianópolis, Manaus, and Porto Alegre have smaller samba school groups or blocos, but like São Paulo state towns, they seem to prefer balls to street dancing.

Curitiba hosts modest carnival celebrations similar to those of other Brazilian cities and events such as Curitiba Rock Festival and a carnival Zombie Walk, all supported by Cultural Foundation of Curitiba which operates under supervision of government of Curitiba.[28][29][30][31]


The northeast state of Pernambuco has unique Carnivals in its present capital Recife and in its colonial capital Olinda. Their main rhythms are the frevo and the maracatu.Galo da Madrugada is the biggest carnival parade in the world, considering the number of participants, according The Guinness Book of World Records.

It means “dawn’s rooster” and parades, as the name suggests, in the morning only. Frevo is Pernambucan-style dance with African and acrobatic influences, as it is fast and electrifying, often using an open umbrella and frequent legs and arms movements.

Unlike Salvador and Rio, the festivities in Recife, Olinda and Itamaraca do not include group competitions. Instead, groups dance and play instruments side by side. Troças and maracatus, mostly of African influence, begin one week before Carnival and end a week later.


  1. ^“Largest carnival”. Guinness World Records. 1 January 2004. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  2. ^“Carnival”. Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. ^“Carnaval de Belo Horizonte terá público recorde, menos recurso e mais restrições - 23/01/2021”.
  4. ^“Topic: Carnival in Brazil”. Statista. Retrieved 4 December 2020. Carnival is, without a doubt, the biggest national festivity in Brazil. For five days each year, the entire country unites in one big street party, where everyone is invited. But Carnival is not only a big part of the country’s culture, it is also an important event for the Brazilian economy.
  5. ^NewsPaper, The Brasilians (6 February 2021). “Carnival, the Most Beloved Tradition of Brazil”. The Brasilians. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  6. ^“Rio’s Carnival - General Info”. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  7. ^“Brazil Holidays and Festivals”. Retrieved 4 December 2020. Undoubtedly, Carnival is the country’s most famous gathering. Throughout many of Brazil’s metropolises, Carnival brings an energy that is unrivaled across the globe.
  8. ^“Carnival in Brazil”. 7 October 2008. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  9. ^“ - Cotidiano - Após recorde de público, Rio limita blocos no Carnaval 2021 - 14/03/2021”. 14 March 2021. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  10. ^“Carnaval da Madeira poderá ter influenciado festividades no Brasil | Sociedade | Diário Digital”. Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  11. ^“SIC Notícias - Cultura”. Archived from the original on 28 August 2021. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  12. ^“Río de Janeiro suspende el carnaval por primera vez en 108 años” (in Spanish). La Radio 1 October 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  13. ^“Confirman carnaval de Río de Janeiro para febrero del 2022” (in Spanish). El Comercio EC. 8 July 2021. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  14. ^Vianna H, The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro 1995, trans. Chasteen J, University of North Carolina Press 1999. p.107.
  15. ^“LIESA - Liga Independente das Escolas de Samba do Rio de Janeiro”. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  16. ^“Mapa de Notas”. Retrieved 20 November 2021.[dead link]
  17. ^“O Portal de Notícias da Paraíba, Nordeste e Brasil”. Archived from the original on 19 December 2021. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  18. ^“Buy your Costumes for the Brazilian Costume Parade in Rio”. Archived from the original on 28 May 2021. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  19. ^Collins, John F. (2021). Revolt of the Saints: Memory and Redemption in the Twilight of Brazilian Racial Democracy. Durham, NC: Duke University press. ISBN 978-0-8223-5320-1.
  20. ^Pasqualin, Vera da Cunha (2021). “The  Street  Carnival  of  São  Paulo  reflecting  the  polarised Brazilian society in 2021”(PDF). Emotions, Populism and Polarised Politics, Media and Culture – via Conference “Emotions, Populism and Polarised Politics, Media and Culture”, University of Helsinki, August 2021.
  21. ^Alface, Felipe (7 February 2021). “The LGBT side of Carnival in Brazil”. The Washington Blade. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  22. ^Alface, Felipe (7 February 2021). “The LGBT side of Carnival in Brazil”. The Washington Blade. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  23. ^Savarese, Mauricio (22 February 2020). “Brazilian transgender dancer shatters Carnival parade taboo”. AP News. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  24. ^“Carnival of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais”. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  25. ^“Carnaval de BH bate recorde com três milhões de pessoas nas ruas”.
  26. ^“Liga das escolas de samba cancela desfile competitivo de 2021 em Juiz de Fora”. G1. 10 October 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  27. ^“Liesb auxiliará na reestruturação do Carnaval de Juiz de Fora”. SRZD. 27 January 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  28. ^“Curitiba’s carnival”. Gazeta do Povo. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  29. ^Greene, Stephen (5 March 2021). “Carnival in Curitiba: Zombie Walk”. The Head of the Heard. Archived from the original on 28 April 2021. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  30. ^“Carnaval de Curitiba abre espaço para o rock e zumbis - Notícia - Fundação Cultural de Curitiba”. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  31. ^“Google Tradutor”. (in Portuguese). Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  32. ^ ab“Sambódromo Information”. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  33. ^“Samba in Rio de Janeiro”. 7 August 1942. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  34. ^Source: UNESCO Office in Brasilia UNESCO Office in Brasilia (7 December 2021). “Brazilian frevo dance is inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization”. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  35. ^“Axé Music in Salvador”. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  36. ^“Tenerife-ABC”.
  37. ^“Fiestas de España. El Carnaval de Tenerife”.
  38. ^“El Carnaval de Tenerife”.

São paulo

The carnival in São Paulo takes place in the Anhembi Sambadrome on the Friday and Saturday night of the week of Carnival, as opposed to Rio’s Carnival, which is held on Sunday and Monday night.

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Various “samba schools” compete in a huge parade. Each school presents a different theme, which they expose through their costumes, dance, music, and the allegorical cars or “carros alegóricos”, huge vehicles decorated according to the theme designed specifically for the parade.

Vai-Vai is the oldest school and has been the Special Group champion most times (15 total, including the 2021 championship). It also is the most popular, for it has a larger fan base and many supporters among the people of the city.

São Paulo has usurped Rio de Janeiro as the Brazilian city with the largest and most diverse Carnival in Brazil.[20] It is also the most LGBTQ friendly Carnival in Brazil.[21] In 2021, the Sexual Diversity Museum of São Paulo formed its own Carnival group to provide the message of inclusion, peace, and respect for all LGBT people.[22] In 2020, São Paulo Carnival has featured Camilla Prins, the first transgender woman to lead a samba school in any Carnival event in Brazil.[23]

Tv broadcasting

The Brazilian Carnival Parades were first broadcast in the late 1960s on television on Rede Globo, which brought the Rio celebrations live, bringing the celebrations to more people all over the nation. By the 1970s, color broadcasting and satellite transmissions made the broadcasts to be beamed to other parts of the nation in real-time, by then featuring the top schools under, since 1984 the Liga Independente das Escolas de Samba do Rio de Janeiro – also known as the Special Group (since 1990), and formerly under the Associação das Escolas de Samba da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro.

Since 1991, Globo’s broadcast of the parades, now dubbed Globeleza, at the Sambodrome in Rio and São Paulo have become the center of national and international attention. Until 2021, fans of the samba schools on parade also expected to watch a short preview of the performances of the schools involved to be broadcast during the duration of the event.

Globo acquired also the rights to air the parade of samba schools of São Paulo in 1990, and victory parades there were later aired in other local TV channels. Parades belonging to the Access Group (5th Division) and the B Series schools in Rio were also broadcast on several TV stations and are still the case today (in 2021 Rede Record and NGT aired the parades of the lower-level schools).

Since 2021, Globo also has full rights to the A Series (Rio) and Paulista parades, which were co-shared with the Viva Channel before its closure in 2021 (which aired lower-level parades and the victory parades of the two cities’ winning schools for the year) and regionally, RBS airs the Carnivals of Florianopólis and Porto Alegre, and since 2021, cable channel TVCOM display the gaucho parades in the south.

Brazil holiday

Brazil holidays 2021: Carnival, Corpus Christi, and Civil Servant Day are considered facultative holidays.

Carnival 2021 is canceled in most Brazilian cities to avoid crowds.

Brazilian Holiday
Jan 1
New Year’s Day
Federal holiday
Facultative half-holiday on December 31st (after 2 PM)
Jan 12
Founding of Belém
Regional holiday
Belém City
Jan 20
Saint Sebastian
Regional holiday
Rio de Janeiro City
Jan 22
São Vicente Anniversary
Regional holiday
São Vicente City
Jan 25
São Paulo Anniversary
Regional holiday
São Paulo City
Jan 26
Santos Anniversary
Regional holiday
Santos City
Feb 15-17
Not a public holiday
Mon-Wed until 12 PM – Facultative, but most people don’t work
Mar 8
Women’s Day
Apr 2
Good Friday
Federal holiday
Apr 4
Federal holiday
Apr 19
Indigenous People’s Day
Apr 21
Tiradentes’ Day
Federal holiday
Apr 22
Brazil’s Discovery
Apr 23
Saint George
Regional holiday
Rio de Janeiro State
May 1
Labor Day
Federal holiday
May 10
Mother’s Day
Not a public holiday
Jun 3
Corpus Christi
Not a public holiday
Facultative, but most people don’t work
Jun 12
Valentine’s Day
Saint Antony’s Day
Jun 24
Saint John’s Day
Jul 2
Bahia Independence Day
Regional holiday
Bahia State
Jul 8
Sergipe Emancipation Day
Regional holiday
Sergipe State
Jul 9
State Rebellion Day
Regional holiday
State of São Paulo Holiday
Aug 9
Father’s Day
Not a public holiday
Aug 15
Our Lady of the Good Voyage
Regional holiday
Belo Horizonte City
Aug 22
Folklore Day
Aug 25
Soldier Day
Aug 26
Campo Grande Emancipation
Regional holiday
Campo Grande City
Sep 7
Independence Day
Federal holiday
Sep 8
Our Lady of Light of Pinhais
Regional holiday
Curitiba City
Sep 20
Ragamuffin War
Regional holiday
Gaúcho Day – Rio Grande do Sul State
Sep 21
Tree Day
Oct 3
Uruaçu & Cunhaú Martyrs’ Day
Regional holiday
Rio Grande do Norte State
Oct 11
Mato Grosso do Sul Creation
Regional holiday
Mato Grosso do Sul State
Oct 12
Our Lady of Aparecida Day
Federal holiday
Oct 12
Children’s Day
Oct 15
Teacher’s Day
Oct 24
Goiânia Anniversary
Regional holiday
Goiânia City
Oct 28
Civil Servants’ Day
Bank holiday
Facultative, but only applies to government and banks
Oct 31
Nov 2
All Souls’ Day
Federal holiday
Nov 15
Republic Day
Federal holiday
Nov 20
Black Awareness Day
Regional holiday
Nov 21
Our Lady of Apresentação Day
Regional holiday
Natal City
Nov 27
Black Friday
Dec 8
Our Lady of Conceição
Regional holiday
Manaus, Salvador, Campo Grande, Belo Horizonte, Belém, João Pessoa, Recife, Teresina, Aracaju, Boa Vista, and RJ
Dec 19
Paraná State Emancipation
Regional holiday
Paraná State
Dec 24
Christmas’ Eve
Not a public holiday
Facultative after 2 PM
Dec 25
Brazil Christ Day
Federal holiday
Dec 31
New Year’s Eve
Not a public holiday
Facultative after 2 PM

Note: Facultative day is a type of holiday exclusive of Brazil. It means it’s up to employers whether they allow employees to take this day.

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