Brazil Top 10 Festivals for the Cultured

Posted on May 23, 2014

Brazil – land of the original 24-hour party! Brazil is known worldwide for friendliness, parties, beaches, samba, music and all-night fun. Here are some of our picks for national and local celebrations. (Be sure to check dates if you go, as some follow the religious calendar and vary year to year).

Lavagem do Bonfim, Salvador - January

A combination of the sacred and irreverent, this festival precedes the more reverent Festa do Bonfim the following week. The Lavagem is a huge party from beginning to end, with lots of batucada (drumming), singing, dancing and cerveja. A group of flower-carrying Baianas, followed by thousands of people, takes part in an 8km street procession to the Igreja do Bonfim (a huge, white Bonfim Catholic church). The Baianas scrub the steps of the church with blessed, scented water in honour of the Senhor do Bonfim (who can be either Jesus Christ or Oxalá, a general patriarchal figure, or both). Although the basis of the festival is religious, in true Brazilian style it is also a massive street party with tens of thousands of revellers partying all day and late into the night.

Carnaval, 46 days before Easter - February

If you’ve done Rio, try where the locals go – Carnaval in Salvador, Bahia. Avoid the commercialism of Rio Carnaval and join in the dancing amidst huge feather headdresses, extravagant floats, hammering drums and wild samba. There are many smaller festivals leading up to the main event in Rio too. Sophisticated dog-lovers enter their costumed pets in a pre-carnival fashion parade,

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A dancer performs in a samba school parade in Rio de Janeiro.

now in its seventh year, parading them on Copacabana beach. There is also the Lavagem do Bonfim, a combined ceremonial occasion and street party.

Celebration of Yemanjá, the Goddess of the Sea - February

On February 2 you can see worshippers throughout Brazil offering flowers, perfumes and jewellery to the sea. Yemanjá, the sea goddess, is considered the mother of all and is a fierce protector of children. Brazilians honour her with beach celebrations of music, food and gifts. The largest celebration takes place in Salvador on Praia Vermelha.

Passion Play, Pernambuco - April

Spectacular pyrotechnics, special effects, lighting and sound, with a professional cast and over 500 extras, this annual Passion of Christ performance is one of the most unforgettable festival experiences in Brazil. Staged in the world’s largest open-air theatre, comprising some 61 square kilometres and nine sets, constructed in 1968 as a purpose-built model of the Holy City specially for this event, the play covers the main events preceding Christ's death and resurrection and closes with the Ascension into Heaven. There are eight nightly performances, starting the Saturday before Easter, featuring about 50 actors from Brazil’s best-known telenovela (soap opera) and extras. An average audience of 8,000 attends each performance, standing or sitting on the slopes and following the cast along the set changes.

Lollapalooza, São Paulo - April

A new music festival for the young and those who enjoy contemporary music, Lollapalooza started in in 2012 and is now São Paulo’s main music event. Past artists have included The Killers, Pearl Jam and Deadmau5. The current line-up includes Arcade Fire, Nine Inch Nails, Julian Casablancas and Brazilian artists. Book tickets online to be collected before you go, or call (5511) 2789-0057 between 3:00pm and 9:00pm Brazil time.

Brasil Sabor - May

This country-wide food festival involves thousands of restaurants throughout the country, serving dishes that represent the local food traditions. Each restaurant offers a new dish of local origin that is also the specialty of the house. Brasil Sabor takes place over several weeks in May and each year features a different theme. Enjoy local deliciousness such as açaí fruit, catupiry cheese, queijo coalho sticks, coxinha chicken croquettes and pão de queijo cheese breads.

Bumba-meu-boi - July to August

Bumba-meu-boi (‘hit my bull’) is a wild, folkloric festival with African, Indian and Portuguese influences from colonial times. It features re-enactments of the death and resurrection of an ox, killed by a slave to give his sick wife the tongue as food, and the subsequent forgiveness of the slave by angry villagers. Accompanied by much heckling, a stream of street performers, many dressed as oxen or mythological creatures, tell the tale through song, dance, theatre and capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial arts/dance form). The festival takes place in many locations over approximately three to four weeks. Wear your best animal print or bikini, and dancing shoes!

Círio de Nazaré, Belém - October

The centuries-old Círio de Nazaré is held on the Amazon River and honours Nossa Senhora de Nazaré (Our Lady of Nazareth), whom the Brazilians believe works miracles for those in need. During the festival a small statue of the Lady is brought upriver from Belem to Icoaraci surrounded by hundreds of boats and thousands of worshippers. A carnival atmosphere surrounds the statue as it then journeys on a chariot decorated with beautiful Amazon flowers from Catedral Da Se to the Basilica. The procession takes five hours and is accompanied by singing, bell-ringing and fireworks, as well as traditional music and dancing. The statue rests at Icoaraci for a few weeks and is then returned to Catedral Da Se for the next year’s festival. Approximately two million people are involved in this festival each year.

Oktoberfest Beer Festival, Igrejinha - October

The strong German heritage of Igrejinha is the basis for this festival, which features German traditions of brass bands, dancing and lederhosen, but with an original Brazilian spin. Enjoy cultural and folk performances, street parades, German games, and specialty beer, food and wine. Igrejinha is also an internationally-regarded centre for Brazilian shoes and fashion, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something special to wear too.

Reveillon - December

Reveillon, on New Year’s Eve, means ‘long holiday’ in French, and this festival dates from France’s past colonisation of part of Brazil. Expect amazing music, pounding Afro-Brazilian rhythms, gorgeous carnival costumes, fireworks, samba and a very late night. Celebrations are held on beaches throughout the county, but for the best parties, go to Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro or the Farol da Barra area near Salvador. There are refreshment stalls with fruit, sandwiches and drinks all along the beaches to help you keep up the party spirit, and don’t forget to dress in traditional white!

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