It’s Carnaval!

What is it that stands on two legs, likes to dress funny and wiggle its half naked body in a celebration that takes place in one of the coldest months of the year? A Portuguese during Carnaval, of course! Like I always say: you don’t have to be crazy to live here, but it sure helps!

Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, whatever it is you call it in your corner of the world, if you do celebrate it it’s probably loud, fun and a bit chaotic. Portugal is no exception and if over the next few days you go to any town or city you’ll see children and adults dressing up, dancing on the streets and going on parades. Some places celebrate the date more than others and for a lot of people it’s an excuse as good as any other to take a day off and have a long weekend (Fat Tuesday is, usually, considered a holiday).

What can you expect? Well, most schools will organize parades with kids dressed up. In places that take Carnival very seriously, like Torres Vedras, schools come up with very organised parades, like this one on the photos bellow (thanks to my friend Katalin who snaped the pics).

Some kids dressed up as pêra rocha (a famous Portuguese type of pear), there was a bunch of tiny Amálias and Fado guitar players, there were even soldiers from the time of the April 25th 1974 revolution and girls dressed up as carnations, the flower that became the symbol of the revolution.

These parades, in their adult version, will usually also include some sort of social/political critique and, of course, people playing, singing and dancing… samba!

This recent tradition is an obvious consequence of the Portugal/Brazil relationship. But why would anyone in their right mind parade half naked on the streets in *February* (just a gentle reminder: Portugal is in the northern hemisphere!) is beyond my understanding! But, hey, if they’re happy I’m happy! There are some variants in traditions across the country and I won’t go into a lot of detail now, but I’d like to focus on an older Portuguese Carnival tradition.

Let’s paraphrase the beginning of this post: what is it that stands on two legs, likes to dress funny and wiggle its fully dressed body and grotesquely masked face in a celebration that takes place in one of the coldest months of the year? A Portuguese during Carnival in Trás-os-Montes, of course!

In the northeastern part of Portugal the traditional celebration of Carnival is an obvious mix of Pagan and Christian traditions, a mix which can be found in many different aspects all over the country. It would take a full blog post just to explain all the details, though. The most famous of these celebrations is probably the one that takes place in Podence, with the colourful “caretos” being the main actors.

A “careto de Podence” on display at the museum in Bragança.

These celebrations are a mix of playing pranks, rites of passage, saying goodbye to Winter, welcoming Spring and just plain fun. You can find several variants of the masks and costumes all over the region and in some parts of Spain, too. In other parts of Portugal, like Aveiro, there are similar costumes and masks but they’re not as famous.

These masks and costumes aren’t always associated with Carnival, so if you’re curious about them and if you’re ever in Bragança I highly recommend visiting the Museu Ibérico da Máscara e do Traje, where these photos were taken. They also have a display of masks, mostly carved out of wood (the first photo on this blog post is of a replica made of clay).

I didn’t manage to find online videos, completely in English, about this tradition but I found one that shows a parade in Bragança with several of these masks and costumes. Hope you enjoy it!

You can listen to this blog post brilliantly read and commented by Carl Munson on his “Good Morning Portugal”.

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