An American friend who lives in VRSA just returned from 5 days in Madeira. His comments mirror those I have heard from other immigrants. “It’s beautiful…it’s lush and manicured…it’s clean…it’s modern…it’s paradise”. Are we moving there? No. But we have wanted to visit for some time, and it would appear Carnival is the perfect time to visit. So we are already making plans to be in Madeira this time, next year.
Yep, today is another holiday in Portugal. This one, like many, has religious roots. Like many Christian traditions, the origins of Carnival (Carnaval in Portuguese) pre-date official church practices and rituals. Ancient peoples celebrated the end of winter (darkness) and the time of renewal. This was a period to abandon the norms of the day, to let one’s hair down…to disguise oneself with costumes or masks. In the 8th century, some in the Church tried to squelch these celebrations, however, over time the Church adopted an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” stance. The word “Carnival” is derived from carne vale/carne levare, “farewell to meat” or “remove meat”. These days became a feast, prior to a period of deprivation and prayer.
Officially tomorrow, 21 February 2023, is Shrove Tuesday…celebrated as Carnival in many countries with Christian traditions. Originating from the word “shrive” to confess one’s sins, this holiday always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter, i.e. the beginning of Lent. In some parts of the world, it is also called Pancake Tuesday:
Pancakes are traditional in a number of European countries because eggs, sugar, and fat, commonly forbidden during the Lenten fast, are used up so they will not go to waste. — Britannica
In New Orleans, this tradition became the sweet treat known as King Cake. And like New Orleans, this day for thoughtful contemplation has morphed into one heck of a party. In fact, in many Portuguese towns, the party started on Friday night and extends through Tuesday. And while VRSA does not have the most spectacular Carnival celebration, it does have activities planned for all four days.
Best Party Towns
You might be wondering, where are the best Carnival celebrations in Portugal. Of course, there are parades and parties planned in Lisbon.But what if you aren’t in the “big city”? In Algarve, it would appear that Loulé lays claim to the oldest continuous pre-Lental party having started 117 years ago. This year parades are scheduled at 15:00 Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.
For 2023, expect to see the parade 14 floats, nine animation groups, three samba schools, giant walking “gigantones” and big head “cabeçudos” and more than 600 entertainers parading down the street…And, since Carnaval is a time for laughter and satire, expect to see prepresentations of Portugal politicians duking it out over the recession, Putin and Zelensky, King Charles III and Rishi Sunak, Brazil’s Lula and Bolsonaro, and even Greta Thunberg.” — Portugal Confidential
On the Silver Coast, you are sure to find plenty to celebrate in Caldas da Reinha. If you are further north, take in one of the more bizarre Carnivals in Podence.
My research suggests that men not dressed in drag, wear the hooded woolen jackets and red leather masks you see above. An assortment of rattles and bells hang from their leather belts. A phallic-like tail extends from the back of their hoods. The men romp about town in search of women to “shake their rattles and bells at” symbolizing “the rebirth of Spring”. And on the last day of the celebrations, a large replica of the hooded men is burned…Burning Man in Portugal?
But if you are like me, and the first image that comes to mind when someone says Carnival is half-naked women wearing an elaborate headdress sambaing down the street…then it would appear that Madeira is your best bet. This year Carnival festivities are planned from the 15th to the 26th … giving visitors 10 days to check out paradise and the parades. And, this is why we will be there at this time next year…
Espero vê-lo novamente na próxima semana…Até entāo…Tchau
If, by chance, you have great Portuguese Carnival memories please share them with our readers below.
When I suggested Hawaii, Japan, and Madeira as possible places to live Denise always answered with the same words, “I lived on an island (Okinawa Japan) for two years, I will never live on another island.”
And no Portuguese class tonight as the schools are closed.
In typical Portuguese fashion, this year’s celebration starts at 22:00 on Saturday and is expected to last 10 hours…i.e. well into the next morning.
Two hours northeast of Porto.
Spent six weeks in Funchal in 2019. We purchased inexpensive grandstand seats at the tourist office to watch the Mardi Gras main parade. So glad we did. Loved our stay.
Thanks for the background about Carnevale!