Carnival in Portugal. It’s a big deal here.
(And one village celebration that’s UNESCO-worthy).
While living in the United States, I always thought it would be fun to go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I never made it there. I didn’t realize until I moved to Portugal that they have something similar called Carnival (or Carnaval), and it’s a big deal here. As I researched this topic, I also found out that one village celebration has earned a UNESCO classification.
Celebrated throughout the country, Carnival (Carnaval Tuesday also known as Shrove Tuesday), is a national holiday meaning that most places of business, municipalities, banks, and schools are closed. It is the day before Ash Wednesday or forty-seven days before Easter Sunday. It is the main day of celebrations, even though in some areas, the festivities precede the weeks before Carnaval Tuesday.
As I mentioned in my post, Holidays, Celebrations, and Festivals in Portugal, Carnival is a festival that marks the start of Lent. It’s one the largest festivals of the year. It’s a celebration of the end of winter and focuses on fun, food, elaborate costumes, parades, and music.
The beginnings of Carnival.
As with many other festivals, traditions, and celebrations, Carnival in Portugal is deep- rooted in history going back hundreds of years. It’s not known exactly when Carnival came to Portugal, but some theorize it arrived in the 1200’s when King Afonso III signed a document proclaiming Entrudo as a religious celebration marked by parades, chaos, and costumes. The word Entrudo is derived from the Latin introitu which means ‘to enter’ and marks the first steps towards Lent. Some theories say the celebration is religious-based while others say pagan-based. I’m thinking, probably a little of both. Read on to find out why.
Different areas. Different celebrations.
There are Carnival celebrations throughout the country and they’re not all the same, but they do all include costumes, dancing, parades, music, beer and wine and traditional Portuguese food. Some of the more popular celebrations on mainland Portugal include the city of Lisbon, Loulé (in the Algarve), Loures (a village on the outskirts of Lisbon), Sesimbra, Setúbal, and Torres Vedras, to name just a few.
Caretos de Podence: a Carnival celebration with UNESCO status.
I found it interesting to learn about one Portuguese Carnival celebration that has been classified by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The community of Podence, which is part of the municipality of Macedo de Cavaleiros in the district of Bragança, hosts the Caretos de Podence Carnival Party with celebrations throughout the small villages of this northern region of Portugal. The Caretos de Podence originated in Podence and is thought to be rooted in Celtic religious or pagan rituals. The tradition represents excess, joy, and euphoria over the end of winter and the start of spring and the fertility season. In past centuries, this ritual was focused on ‘rattling the women’ when the Caretos - single boys and men characterized by diabolic-looking masks and bright costumes of red, yellow, and green with bells and rattles tied to their waists - targeted unmarried village girls and women, by jumping in front of them, and scaring them with their bizarre costumes and masks, and then dancing with them, moving their hips back and forth in a suggestive sexual manner. (I don’t know about you, but that would definitely be a turn-off for me).
In more modern times, the Caretos which are often boys and men, but now also young girls and women, travel throughout the villages on Fat Sunday and Carnival Tuesday in their costumes and masks and rattle, scream, scare, jump, and run chaotically through the streets, and dance with bystanders.
During these processions, the Caretos are followed by younger boys and girls who at a young age participate in and learn the tradition. Many of the costumes and masks – often hand crafted - worn by Caretos are passed down from generation to generation.
At the end of Carnival Tuesday, there is a parade. In the evening, the Queima do Entrudo marks the pre-lent season with a symbolic burning ceremony that represents the end of one season and the beginning of a new one.
This community tradition is long-standing with generations of villagers including descendants and those living in nearby towns or cities returning to the region to participate in this Carnival celebration and ritual, which has thus earned the classification by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
To learn more about this special Carnival tradition, check out this video produced by Caretos de Podence:
How to find Carnival festivities.
I could not find any one specific resource for finding out where the Carnival festivities are throughout Portugal. Each area seems to have its own information and schedule. So, the best way to find where the festivities are in whichever area of Portugal you live in or plan to visit, is to check out the local municipality websites, tour guide websites, or even some of the Facebook pages of the different regions and municipalities of Portugal.
If you’re interested in Caretos de Podence festivities, the Associação Grupo de Caretos de Podence, a non-profit organization that organizes and promotes Caretos de Podence Carnival festivities, has a comprehensive website listing various events and information about this tradition.
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Until next time…