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Carnival in Portugal (Part I)

Carnival in Portugal (Part I)

Whilst we may not have the heat of Rio de Janeiro in February, nor the masks of Venice; Carnival in Portugal is still an amazing celebration, and is an event that is eagerly awaited by much of the Portuguese population.

From the north to the south of the country, not forgetting the islands, there are a multitude of different ways of celebrating Carnival: sometimes the weather is not the most favourable, but the revellers' joy and enthusiasm make this time of year a very joyful and fun celebration.  

The way Carnival is celebrated in Portugal differs greatly from region to region. In some places, it is celebrated in a completely traditional way, in others, the festivities take more of a "Brazilian style". There are also still cities that opt for the most typical Portuguese Carnival possible.  

The official date of Carnival in Portugal is dictated by the Catholic Church, which is always on a Tuesday, forty-seven days before Easter Sunday.

Here Carnival is also called Entrudo, as it is the time ancient celebrations took place for the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere.   

The history of Carnival goes back to the Celtic peoples who marked the end of winter with "fertility" festivals. Over the years, the pagan traditions of the Romans in Portugal, of revelry, dancing and playing tricks became very popular.  

When the Pope recognised Carnival and made it part of the Christian calendar in the 15th century, these festivals became more and more common, not only in Portugal but all over Europe. Since then, Carnival has officially become the time to celebrate, eat meat and indulge in extravasation before the fasting of Lent until Easter.   

With the recognition by the Catholic Church, Carnival began to be celebrated more and more: the nobility classes in Portugal held their own private balls and in the streets people started to celebrate Carnival with floats, that are still common today.  

If, like many, you thought that the origin of Carnival was Brazilian, you were wrong. It was the Portuguese, during the age of Discoveries, who took Carnival to Brazil. The Brazilian people liked the festival so much that they developed their own Carnival, that nowadays influences the celebrations in many regions of Portugal. 

It is right here that we will begin our "parade" through the Portuguese carnival celebrations.   

Ovar, a city located near Aveiro is one of the most popular places for Portuguese and foreign people to celebrate Carnival. It is known for being the most "Brazilian Carnival in Portugal", where Samba is a main focus. This city is proud of its several Samba schools that parade in the streets of the city, bringing life and dance to the city's streets, and all its inhabitants.   

Further north in Portugal is the carnival of Podence, in Macedo de Cavaleiros. Unlike the carnival of Ovar, this is the most traditional in Portugal. Here the tradition of the caretos, typical of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, is maintained, inspired by Celtic traditions and pagan mythology.

Unlike the Ovar carnival, this is the most traditional in Portugal. Here the tradition of the Caretos, typical of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, is maintained, inspired by Celtic traditions and pagan mythology. During the three days of Carnival the boys of the village dress up as Caretos, devilish figures representing chaos, with striped, brightly coloured costumes and frightening masks with horns, sculpted by the craftsmen of the village. The boys run through the streets of the town shouting and jumping until they find a girl to dance with and "rattle" (all the boys wear attached to their waist rattles inherited from their families and when they dance they make a characteristic sound). This is the symbol of earth fertility and this tradition has been going on for some centuries.  

In 2019 this Carnival was considered as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. At the end of Carnival, the people of the village get together to burn a giant Careto doll in the centre of the village, the symbol of Entrudo.  

This is undoubtedly the most different and traditional of all Portuguese Carnivals. 

Entrudo is also celebrated in some regions of Minho. On the Tuesday night of Carnival, there is a funeral procession, after which the Testament of Entrudo is read. This consists of a satirical speech that targets various national figures, from the President of the Council to the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic. It is also traditional here for men to dress as women and women as men, and the contest is won by those that cannot be identified. 

Do you feel like travelling to one of Portugal's carnivals? 

Our journey doesn't stop here, next Tuesday we will talk about how the Portuguese celebrate Carnival in the centre of the country. 

It's incredible how such a small country can have such different traditions and festivities.

Written by: Cláudia Ferreira