Brazil’s most famous party experience has to be Carnaval (That’s carnival in Portuguese by the way, one of the more simple translations…). Held every year on the Friday to the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, celebrations for Carnaval happen all over the country from the famed parades in Rio’s Sambodrome, to mud slinging matches in Paraty and street parties in Salvador. During this period it is as if there is a party on every corner. But it is not just Carnaval that has earned Brazil its reputation as the party country of the world. Many other celebrations happen throughout the year here and I thought I’d highlight a few of these less known, but just as impressive events.
Reveillon and Festa de Iemanja, Rio de Janeiro, 31st Dec-1st Jan
The second biggest party in Brazil’s calendar has to be Reveillon, the New Year’s celebration that happens in Rio de Janeiro. At the turn of the year, millions of tourists and cariocas (the term for Rio’s city folk) swarm to Copacabana beach to make good use of the live music and DJs on offer, playing on stages which line the beach, and to watch the spectacular fireworks display light up the coast.
But a lot of people don’t just head down to the beach to party, but to take part in the Festa de Iemanja. You will see many people dressed in white and blue, casting flowers, perfume, rice and other gifts adrift in little paper boats. These are offerings to Iemanja, goddess of the water and mother of all gods in the Umbanda religion of Brazil. The traditional event stands in stark contrast to the modern celebrations of Reveillon, but both make for a great night out in Brazil.
If you miss the Festa de Iemanja in Rio, then be sure to catch it in Salvador on 2nd February.
Lavagem do Bonfim (Washing of Bonfim church), Salvador, second Thursday in January
During this celebration, thousands line up alongside the Church of the Bonfim on Monserrat Hill in Salvador and proceed to clean it. Afterwards there is an 8Km parade with plenty of singing and dancing. Bahian culture is formed from the different cultures that have been imported to the region over Brazil’s history and the Washing of Bonfim Church provides a stark example of this. The act of washing the church is traditionally Portuguese but the chants you’ll hear from the crowds are spoken in Yoruba, a West-African language.
Bumba Meu Boi, Sao Luis, late June to the second week of August
Bumba Meu Boi is a Brazilian folktale and during the celebrations you will see it acted out. Whilst there are many variations, the basic version goes a little something like this. A farm-hand kills an ox to give the tongue to his wife. The farmer, finding his ox dead, enlists the help of shaman to bring the ox back to life. With the ox successfully bought back to life, the farmer forgives the farm-hand and in true Brazilian style, they all have a party to celebrate. If you head to Bumba Meu Boi you can expect to see this tale performed with vivid costumes, dance and plenty of sounds all drawing heavily from Brazilian Native Amerindian traditions.
Boi Bumba, Parintins, 28th June-30th June
Boi Bumba is similar to Bumba Meu Boi but with modern flare. In fact the best way to think about it is as a cross between the Traditional styling of Sao Luis’s Bumba Meu Boi and the extravagant flamboyance of Rio’s Carnaval celebrations. Here you can expect the folkloric tale of the ox to be told with giant costumes and throngs of dancers and performers in scenes reminiscent of those found in Rio’s famed Sambadromo during Carnaval. Well worth checking out!
As an aside, if you do find yourself in Parintins for Boi Bumba, or at any other point, look out for Coca-Cola as bizarrely, this is the only place in the world where it isn’t branded in the colour red but instead blue. Odd!