13 things you didn’t know about Carnival

Carnival in the historic center of Salvador. Photo by the Government of Bahia/Flickr


  1. If you decide to watch the Carnival parade in Rio and rent a box (that may be covered or not and fits between four and 24 people), you will pay something between R$ 18,500 (11,100 dollars) and R$ 83,000 (50,000 dollars), according to Liga Independente das Escolas de Samba do Rio (Liesa).
  2. Last year, 600 thousand condoms were distributed by the government to the crowd who was celebrating Carnaval in Olinda, state of Pernambuco. The city, that has around 380 thousand inhabitants, received 1,5 million visitors who left behind them 266 tons of trash in the historic quarters.
  3. There are several versions for the origin of the word Carnaval. Some authors say that, in Ancient Rome, during the festivities in honor of god Saturn, cars that looked like ships (“carrum navalis”) would cross the streets transporting naked men and women. Other sources believe that it comes from carne (flesh or meat) – it would refer to the period of the year when Catholics don’t eat meat.
  4. The Church, despite an initial opposition to Carnival, decided in the year 590 to give the festivities its blessings, under one condition – the day after, Ash Wednesday, should be dedicated to repent and sin expiation. Today, it is mainly dedicated to hangover.
  5. Carnavalis not celebrated every year on the same day because it depends on the Easter calendar (which follows the lunar calendar). Ash Wednesday happens exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday.

    Spanish entrudo mask, photographed in Galicia region by Noel Feans/Flickr
  6. Brazilian carnival descends from Portuguese entrudo, a street festival where people fights with buckets full of water.  It used to happen in Rio, where the Portuguese court was stablished in the early 19th century. Later, entrudos became more aggressive and participants would throw dirty water, flour, limes and oranges in whoever happened to be on the streets. In 1854 the police of Rio obliged entrudo participants to abolish the use of liquids, not to destroy expensive clothes. Then it evolved to the present version of Carnaval.
  7. The first Brazilian carnival parade happened in 1855, when Rio was the capital of the Empire. A group of intellectuals went to the imperial palace to invite the royal family to watch their parade. Emperor Dom Pedro II accepted.
  8. All around Brazil, social and sports clubs promote early balls, generally in the beginning of February, that receive the name of Grito de Carnaval (Shouting for Carnival might be a decent translation).
  9. Beija-Flor de Nilópolis and Imperatriz Leopoldinense are the most successful escolas de samba to participate in Rio’s Carnival competition since 1985. Click in this link to see the complete ranking.
  10. Last year, Beija-Flor invested 8 million reais (4.8 million dollars) in last year’s presentation, paying homage to Brasília, the country’s capital.
  11. In the 30s, the so-called ala das baianas – the section of each escola de samba, during Rio’s Carnival parade, composed of elder ladies in big, round skirts – was integrated only by man, all of them carrying  a shaving blade attached to their legs, used to protect the other dancers in case of fights.
  12. The costume worn by the porta-bandeira – the lady that dances carrying a flag, during Rio’s parade -, believe it or not, can weigh over 40 kilos (88 pounds).
  13. To follow Camaleão, one of the most popular blocos – over 200 groups that play music during street Carnival in Salvador – you will pay 840 reais or 506 dollars per day. Sorry, it is already sold out.

My main sources: Guia dos Curiosos and Liesa

You might also be interested in these posts:

Gorgeous Rio Carnival

Street Carnival