The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (JZ).
JZ: Carnival happens for a reason, but it’s not for me, really. Honestly, no one knows, or no one cares… But it is religious related. I did look it up once, though… It always happens before Ash Wednesday, which starts lent.
LT: So it’s kind of like Mardis Gras?
JZ: Yes. But it’s for everyone, even people like me, who are Jewish. Everybody just takes time off, and enjoys… There’s a saying… “the year doesn’t start until after Carnival ends,” and it’s true! Like it really doesn’t start. It’s not a joke. Everyone is waiting insanely for Carnival. Everyone travels Friday night, and it goes alllll the way until Wednesday. So everyone travels, and goes to these crazy crazy parties, and sometimes, when you get older, you don’t even need to go to the big festivals, you just go to the parties. And the parties have… temas?
JZ: Yes, so they’re all these different parties with different themes… They’re like… the neighborhood parties.
LT: Block parties?
JZ: But not really, they’re much much bigger. They’re like parades, and you stop and drink in the street. But you dress up in costumes and then go from party to party… But just so you understand, I’ve been to where Carnival actually happens only once in my entire life. No one cares, just gringos go there. We just party in the streets. It’s the greatest party you’ve ever gone to in your life.
My informant is my sister-in-law who is from São Paulo, Brazil. She grew up travelling to Rio de Janeiro every year for Carnival, and cannot remember her first one: “It has always been a tradition.” She is Jewish, so she does not partake in the religious aspect of Carnival, and her favorite part is “having fun with friends and family, and even strangers, just drinking and celebrating life.”
I Facetime by brother and sister-in-law often, and this piece was collected during one of our regular calls.
To me, Carnival speaks to how Brazilians value enjoying life and celebration. In America, it sounds crazy to take almost a full week off of work to go party and drink. However, in Brazil, it’s not crazy, it’s normal. Generally speaking, it seems as though Americans are often much more serious and plan for the future, whereas Brazilians are more laid-back and live in the moment. I love the way my sister-in-law talked about how people of all backgrounds, from all different places, come together to celebrate Carnival, even the ones who don’t know its original religious significance. Although I’ve never been, I think of Carnival as being a welcoming, lighthearted, and colorful way for people to join together and just have fun.
For further reading on Carnival’s origin and history:
Brown, Sarah. “How Did Brazil’s Carnival Start?” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 4 Jan. 2018.