Much of Brazil's international reputation is centered around local traditions and celebrations such as capoeira, the national sport, and the festivities of Carnaval. From the cult of soccer to Catholic holidays to the rituals of the local religion, Candomble, Brazil's traditions are both secular and sacred. In some cases, such as in the earthy revelry of Carnaval, the division seems all but clear.
Carnaval, the traditional festival of decadence before Lent begins, has some of its biggest celebrations in Brazil. The cities of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador are particularly famous for their parades; the performers spend months preparing and practicing. During the two weeks immediately preceding the festival, local community bands play throughout Rio's neighborhoods. The informal pre-festival celebrations are known as "blocos." They are very easy to attend and usually take place on the streets in front of bars. Fancy balls take place throughout the city's upscale venues. The Copacabana Palace Ball is the crown jewel of these parties. In the streets, visitors watch the Samba School Parade from Sunday night through Monday morning. Major streets close to traffic throughout the Carnaval festivities.
New Year's Celebrations
Rio is home to Reveillon, a high-spirited New Year's celebration. Early in the day, many local restaurants serve special buffet lunches. By evening, the throngs have gathered along the city's beaches to watch the midnight fireworks display. For followers of the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomble, New Year's celebrations include wearing all-white garb, lighting candles and setting small boats loaded with trinkets into the ocean, in offering to the sea goddess Yemenja.
Bumba-meu-boi and Regional Festivals
Throughout the year, numerous regional festivals take place in all corners of Brazil. In Sao Luis, the Bumba-meu-boi festival has the townsfolk act out a folk story involving the killing and resurrection of a bull. The celebrations span several months. In Salvador, the end of January brings a ceremonial washing of the steps of the Bonfim Church, an event that draws an audience of 800,000 people. Women in traditional costumes use perfumed water to wash the steps. Leading up to Easter, the citizens of Nova Jerusalem enact a passion play, the largest in all of South America. The stages of the cross last 10 days, culminating on Easter Sunday.
Besides the country's animated festivals and celebrations, Brazil has numerous traditions, from sports to dance to religious rites. Capoeira, a home-grown martial art, is based on self-defense practices devised by African slaves. Because it was originally necessary to disguise the practice, the art now resembles dancing as much as fighting. Brazil's enthusiasm for soccer launches the sport to the level of a national obsession. Other national traditions draw from the predominant religions, Catholicism and Candomble. Candomble traditions include offerings to Lemanja during the new year, as well as Boa Morte, or beautiful death, a celebration that takes place in Salvador and incorporates music and dance. Samba music and dance comes from the Bantu who arrived in Brazil from Angola. This African musical import has evolved to produce Bossa Nova and other traditional forms of Brazilian music.