This week's Blog it’s all about Carnaval in Portugal! Its history and our traditions, how we celebrate it and where you can go to enjoy the very best of the Portuguese Carnaval.
Get into your folly mood and let's dive in!
Carnaval in Portugal is a fun and very exciting festivity for a lot of people and most of us celebrate it with passion! Some prefer the more traditional Entrudo celebrations like the famous crazy woolen Caretos, others enjoy the electrifying energy and vibrant colors and music that composes the Brazilian-like Carnaval parades. While to some, it’s not their cup of tea and choose not to celebrate it at all.
But one thing is certain with Carnaval: it carries a lot of historical significance and many traditions and ways of celebrating have stemmed from it over the centuries.
Before the Roman Empire, Portugal had already been settled by the Celts, so some of our traditions like the pre-historical Celtic religious ritual, the Caretos, date way before the conquest and Christian influence. The word ‘Carnaval’ and the festivities we celebrate today are of Christian origin. ‘Carnavale’ comes from the Latin expression ‘carne levare’, which means “remove meat” or “farewell to meat” and it signifies the approach of a fasting period. There is an old saying “No entrudo come-se tudo” (“During the Entrudo, we eat everything”- sounds better in Portuguese ahah), that is because Carnaval is a time of great indulgence before Lent, because traditionally Lent signified a time of prayer and contemplation and a time to Fast, in remembrance of the time Jesus spent in the desert avoiding the temptation of Satan. Nowadays, it is more of a withdrawal from festivities and only meat is avoided.
Caretos of Podence and Lazarim
Let’s briefly go back to the Caretos. This ancestral Pagan tradition is perhaps the oldest Entrudo tradition, dating back to Celtic religious rituals, that is still being practiced today in the villages of Podence in Bragança district. Some historians argue that the reason why it’s still being celebrated today is because of how remote in the northern mountains these villages are, so it was harder for Christian influence to reach them.
Although in Lazarim, Lamego also has a very similar practice, it’s origin is only registered as starting in the second half of the last century.
In the Podence villages, mischievous young men dressed in suits made of colorful fringe wool quilts, wearing brass, leather or wooden masks and rattles in their belts will “terrorize” young women they see on the streets. Okay, not terrorize but they will catch you, dance with you and even shake you up a little (the correct word is the funny sounding “achocalhar”, how fun is that!). The rattle of the belts lets you know that they are coming towards you, so beware! So with the spirit of Caretos in Podence it’s all about these little devilish red, yellow, and green wooly characters!
By contrast, Caretos of Lazarim are a bit more well-behaved. Entrudo here is characterized by the oversized, intricately carved wooden masks that are sculpted by local artisans, complemented by the wonderful agricultural-material costumes of devils, bearded men, mad faces, pointy ears and horns. Here the parade follows a more whimsical attitude, reminiscent of the world-famous Venetian Carnavale, in which these mischievous entities slowly appear on the streets one by one, creating a very ominous and spooky atmosphere.
There is also the tradition in which that year’s Entrudo godmother and godfather dress up in all black and go on the streets reading out loud rimes and charades criticizing and making fun of the boys and girls of the village, revealing secrets that are kept throughout the year.
It’s not all about the spooky atmosphere, during the parade you will also find the beating of drums, beautiful music, lots of food and wine and the whole village gathers to participate in this ancient celebration.
Modern - day Carnaval
Nowadays, most Carnaval parades and festivals in the rest of the country follow more or less the same pattern: incredible fun parades filled with music, dance, vibrant and exciting display of colorful costumes and months and months of preparation (in some areas, preparations for the next year’s parades start as soon as the current one is over!!). There are many similarities between the modern-day celebrations in Portugal and the electrifying samba parades of Brazil.
Get ready to see the streets filled with the most fabulous Carnivalesque floats, parades and the mischievous spirit of Entrudo and let’s get to know where you can celebrate one of the most exciting times of the year in Portugal.
Torres Vedras: Known to be “most Portuguese Carnava of Portugal'', the festivities started in 1923 and usually lasts 6 days! Here the life of the party are the iconic matrafonas, Zé Pereiras and Cabeçudos. Matrafonas is one of the most prominent characters you will find here and they’re basically men dressed as women in a very comic and fun way. Zé Pereiras are the men who play musical instruments like the drums and bagpipes during the parades. Finally, the infamous Cabeçudos are elongated figures with exaggerated big heads and somewhat terrifying facial features made from paper mache paste that travel through the municipality along with the floats. Usually these figures represent political or other well-known people as Torres Vedras Carnaval is particularly known to have a satire and fun take on society.
Here the party hits the streets with the help of over 20 organized groups, each with its own theme, that get together every year to show off their creative work that needs months to prepare to and “compete” with each other, and that’s because every group aims to get the title of the best theme and costumes of the year known as “Piada Colectiva”. Amazing floats, good disposition, exciting samba music, dance and lots and lots of joy is what Carnaval of Ovar is all about.
Heading down to the South, this Algarvian city guarantees impressive vibes similar to the Brazilian Carnaval. In Loulé, you can experience the incredible sunny weather while enjoying the incredible joyous atmosphere of Carnaval! Some people even decorate traditional Portuguese boats and navigate them along the shoreline for fun!
These are just some of the best and biggest celebrations of Carnaval in Portugal, but almost everywhere people celebrate it in one way or another. Other famous and visit-worthy parades take place in Loures, Nazaré, Canas de Senhorim and Funcha.
In smaller cities, it's very common to see children from their kindergarten and basic school classes do small parades with their schools. It’s honestly the cutest thing!!
While the mornings are for the tiny ones to have their fun, at night it’s common to see the adults going out to bars in costumes as well!
So as you can see, from bigger scale festivities to smaller scale parties with your friends, Carnaval is ALWAYS celebrated in Portugal.
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