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What Is the Rio De Janeiro Carnival and Why Is it Celebrated?


The celebration of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, pronounced KAR-nih-VAHL, circles the globe with elaborate cultural ceremonies. The dazzling costumes, boisterous parades, and excess food and drink signify Carnival celebrations, including the iconic annual Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. 


While overindulgence is the theme of Carnival, this festival has religious significance. There are many things to do in Rio de Janeiro, but nothing beats Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. Read on to learn more about the cultural celebration!


Can’t get enough of Brazil’s rich culture? Watch this trailer for a live virtual tour of Brazil on Amphy. 

Significance of Carnival

Carnival celebrations coincide with the Catholic liturgical calendar. This calendar of seasons within the church includes the season of Lent, which typically occurs in February or March. Lent represents 40 days of intentional fasting, charitable giving, and other sacrifices to prepare for the miracle of Easter.


Lent is an extremely significant season in the Catholic faith, comparable only to Christmas. The story of the betrayal of Jesus Christ and His resurrection provides the bedrock for much of what Christians believe. Believers understand their small sacrifice honors the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ.


To ready themselves for more than a month of restriction, celebrations like Carnival invite indulgence. Lots of food, too much alcohol, and nonstop music and dancing represent the ideal way for Brazilians, and other cultures around the world, to enter a period of prolonged sacrifice. 

Origin of Rio’s Carnival

Carnival celebrations have roots in the 1650s. This festival evolved from a pagan ritual to Greek or Roman gods into the current celebration with great seasonal significance for Catholics. The overall reason for this festival is to honor the spirit of overindulgence.


Rio hosted the first Carnival in 1723, with Brazil’s culture influenced by Portuguese colonists. Modern Carnival evolved from the “Entrudo” festival in Portugal.  Today, this major Brazilian city celebrates the most famous Carnival in the world. More than two million people crowd the streets to celebrate this unforgettable festival.


One of the most iconic aspects of present-day Carnival in Rio is the samba dancing competitions. However, this African-influenced dance was introduced only about a century ago. This means Rio’s Carnival is still changing, diversifying, and responding to its community.


Despite pervasive poverty and crime throughout Brazil, the Carnival celebration occurs every year. The only periods where Carnival fell silent, include the two World Wars and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is truly a spectacle to behold, filled with rich cultural origins and mesmerizing costumes.

Cultural Traditions of Rio’s Carnival

Each Carnival celebration soaks up influence from its local cultural traditions. However, each Carnival contains a few consistent elements.


Every Carnival features an over-the-top parade as the main attraction. Huge floats, energetic marching bands, elaborate costumes, and lots of participants make up the centerpiece of every Carnival. 


One of the most notable aspects of Carnival is its immersive nature. Honoring a community’s unique heritage and throwing a huge party for everyone is the main theme of Carnival. Don’t hesitate to accept an invitation to dance or participate in the parade.


The traditional dance samba is an essential element of modern Carnival celebrations in Rio. Performances are held in the city’s special Sambadrome, where local samba schools perform thrilling choreography in jaw-dropping costumes.

Rio de Janeiro Carnival Costumes

Amazing Rio de Janeiro Carnival costumes serve as an enduring image of this annual celebration. All of these sensational costumes are homemade. At Carnival, it’s important to dress to impress! Each samba school designs impressive costumes to enhance their energetic dancing.


These Rio de Janeiro Carnival costumes frequently feature elaborate feather headpieces. Carnival dancers frequently wear nearly-naked jeweled bikinis, similar to a belly dancer’s costume. Face and body paint complete the fantasy with these over-the-top outfits. 

Rio De Janeiro Carnival

Key Figures of Rio’s Carnival

King Momo kicks off Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. A man is appointed to this considerable honor and is often also given the key to the city. Other Latin American Carnival celebrations also feature a King Momo.


In addition to the King, a Carnival Queen and her princesses round out the royal court of this festival. The Carnival Queen is the winner of a local beauty pageant and presides over the ceremonial aspects of Carnival.


Another important figure during Rio’s Carnival is the Drum Queen. Each samba school performing in the Sambadrome chooses a Drum Queen for their ensembles. This dancer is typically considered the most beautiful in that school’s community. 


During the school’s performance, the Drum Queen will dance nonstop in front of ceremonial drummers. The Drum Queen is an elite athlete, performing an elaborate routine in a tiny costume, enormous feathered headpiece, and high heels.

Carnival Celebrations Around the World

It’s not just Rio who celebrates this amazing festival. If you live in the United States, you’re probably familiar with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This celebration coincides with the arrival of Lent and honors overindulgence.


The Carnival party on the Caribbean island nations of Trinidad and Tobago delivers what is called “The Greatest Show on Earth”. This tiny country’s Carnival is heavily influenced by African traditions, as the North American slave trade passed through these islands. Calypso tunes and steel drums ring out during Carnival street dances in Trinidad and Tobago.


As mentioned before, a Carnival-like festival originated in Europe as a way to honor Greek and Roman gods. Therefore, major cultural hubs in Europe still celebrate their own version of Carnival. Dance in the canals in Venice or join a masquerade ball. In Dusseldorf, Germany, Carnival lasts from November until the beginning of Lent.

Rio De Janeiro Carnival

Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2022

Carnival returned in 2022 after the COVID-19 pandemic outlawed large public gatherings. While typical Carnival festivals are bound by the Catholic seasonal calendar, this year’s celebration occurred after the Easter holiday. It was unknown if Carnival would return in 2022, but this shuffling of the calendar made it possible.


The Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2022 festival delivered the spectacle visitors expect. Notably, several entries in the Carnival parade offered sinister and dark costumes. This may reflect a response to the cultural moment as people emerged from a pandemic.

Final Thoughts

Jump at the chance to attend any of the globe’s Carnival celebrations! These immersive festivals illuminate the best of local culture, including foods, music, dances, and hospitality.


Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is truly a spectacle to behold, filled with rich cultural origins and mesmerizing costumes.

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