Carnival in Portugal: a centuries-old tradition
A few weeks ago we made here a reference to the Carnival of Loulé, the largest and most popular of Algarve. And now is the time to develop the subject a little further.
Although Carnival is nowadays considered, mainly, a Brazilian tradition – especially due to the immense success achieved by the Rio de Janeiro’s celebrations – this is quite a standard feature in Catholic countries. In its origin, it’s a bunch of pagan festivals that were “institutionalised” by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, much like Halloween and Christmas.
However, if Christmas meaning was really taken by the message of the Birth of the Christ, Carnival remained a period of “pure paganism” that was cut short at Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In England, the Reformation took Carnival into a different route, and today we have just Pancake Day. So, whenever you see some media asking “what’s the relation between the gigantic Rio’s Carnival and the Pancake Day”, here’s the answer.
Carnival in Portugal
Throughout Portugal, Carnival is today some of a hybrid public celebration. In some towns, and famously in Funchal (Madeira), there is a significant influence of the Brazilian way of doing Carnival. However, in most towns, Carnival is a time for cities and even villages organising public parades with allegoric cars. The participants of the march wear masks and special outfits, but those who are watching are supposed to do the same. It’s also very usual to do pranks, especially for young boys, like engaging in large battles of water guns and water balloons.
Carnival also involves late night parties and, always, people disguising themselves and dressing up as their favourite heroes or just for fun. This can include face-covering, to wander around anonymously. For children, the season turns into a “must”!
And you can even find, in some remote places in Northern Portugal, Carnival rites that seem clearly a distant influence of Celtic, pre-Christian cultures. This happens very much in the villages of Podence (Macedo de Cavaleiros, Bragança district) and Lazarim (Lamego, Viseu district.)
So, either in Loulé or elsewhere, enjoy it because, as Portuguese say “life is just two days, but Carnival is three”.