There’s the most Portuguese Carnival in Portugal, the five-day Carnival instead of three, and the most Brazilian Carnival in Portugal. All are part of the same celebration, but each has uniqueness, showcasing Portugal’s true greatness in traditions.
The origin of Carnival can be traced back to the Greeks, who, in a festive spirit, thanked the gods for agricultural productions between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. However, it is more widely recognized as a Christian celebration, integrated into the Easter festivities. According to the Christian religion, during the forty days leading up to Easter, known as Lent, it is forbidden to consume meat. Therefore, the days preceding Lent became known as ‘carne vale,’ a Latin expression meaning ‘Farewell to Meat,’ giving rise to the term Carnival in Portugal.
The Brazilian Carnival has gained a worldwide reputation over the years, but it was the Portuguese who introduced the tradition of “Entrudo” in Brazil in the 16th and 17th centuries. This celebration was characterized by street playfulness, where liquids or mud were thrown at people. Fortunately, Carnival has evolved, and instead of hurling mud, there are now parades with floats adorned with sequins and feathers. Nowadays, we can also see these festivities replicated on the streets of Portugal during Carnival.
In Sines, Sesimbra, or Mealhada, even the most reserved person succumbs to the samba rhythms. The influence of Brazil shines in several Carnivals in Portugal. In Ovar, Estarreja, and Alcobaça, it’s the samba schools leading the pace in the parades. In this last town, Carnival, originally three days, extends to five days, becoming the longest in the country.
In other carnivals, big-headed figures (Cabeçudos), children’s parades, and socio-political satires take to the streets. In Torres Vedras, at the most Portuguese Carnival in Portugal, the “Matrafonas” stand out, originating in 1926. They are part of the local tradition and, in truth, are men disguised as women. For those who couldn’t afford costumes, the solution was to borrow clothes from wives, sisters, or aunts, ensuring a spot in the city’s carnival festivities.
In the posters of the festivals in Podence or Lazarim, the word Carnival is replaced by Entrudo. The “Chocalheiro” Carnival of Podence is now recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The “caretos” make this celebration special, shaking their rattles as they move through the streets. In Lazarim, it’s the girls and boys who disguise themselves with masks carved in wood. Each line carved into the masks by the artisan creates devilish expressions to ensure no one gets a good night’s sleep.
Several cities vie for the title of the oldest Carnival in Portugal. However, it’s down south, in Loulé, where we find the country’s oldest float parade. Since 1906, the Civilized Carnival has been a pilgrimage for many Algarve families. This carnival has had a charitable aspect since the beginning – proceeds from each ticket sold go to local hospitals.
Finally, we know that life is just two days, and during Carnival, there’s the bonus of it being three. It’s the time to laugh until your stomach hurts and to indulge in prolonged laughter. Whether it’s Carnival or “Entrudo”, what matters is the unbridled joy of this season.