“The best things come in small packages” is just one of a few sayings backing up the assumption that the Carnival in Rio, despite being the biggest festivity in Brazil, might not be the one that suits your taste best. But Brazil is huge, and so is the variety of traditional celebrations it has to offer. If authenticity appeals more than proportion to you, check, below, some hand picked options from our national menu. And bon appetit.
Acclaimed as the 2nd biggest folkloric event in Brazil, the Boi Bumbá festival, in Parintins, in the Amazon state, attracts “only” 100 thousand visitors (Rio receives 5 million every Carnival). Daily, during 3 days in the end of June, more than 30 thousand people gather at the local arena to watch and support the 3-hour show of each of the two competing teams: Caprichoso and Garantido. The theatrical performances, originally based on the tale of a resurrected ox, have evolved to celebrate the lifestyle of local countrymen.
Competition between the teams is taken seriously, and the participation of the crowd is one of the key criteria for the jury to choose the winning side at the end of the event. Supporters of one team are not allowed to speak when the other side is performing, and the fans even avoid saying the name of their enemies: if you want to refer to the other team, say simply “the opposite” (contrário, in Portuguese).
The spectacle of the audience is as impressive as the folk dances and songs, and it might make your local soccer derby seem like children’s party.
Originally a religious celebration, the Çairé still exists in the idyllic beach village of Alter do Chão, in the northern state of Pará. The celebration revives the tale of two river dolphins that disputed against each other, until one died and was later resurrected (yes: resurrecting animals seems pretty common in brazilian folk tales). Beginning in the middle of September, the festivity mixes religious and profane elements: it starts, in the afternoon, with a procession of the Holy Trinity symbol, and it follows, at night, with lots of local music and drinks – the profane rituals, if you know what I mean.
In medieval times, aristocrats used to showcase their battling and hunting skills in rehearsed performances. Nowadays, in the middle-western portion of Brazil, the Cavalhadas recreate these demonstrations, influenced by the portuguese heritage. Although many cities have their versions of the event, the most famous one happens in Pirenópolis (state of Goiás) and lasts for three days, in June. The story driving the presentations is that of the battles between Christians and Moors and – it couldn’t be different in the biggest Christian country on Earth – the Christians win in the end. Don’t let the spoiler get you down: few if any tourists travel to these vicinities, and the trip will be much more rewarding than the denouement of the spectacle.
Círio de Nazaré
The Círio de Nazaré is the only strictly religious festival on this list, and it’s slightly bigger than your typical Sunday Mass. More than two million people gather in one single morning, in the middle of October, to follow the image of the local patroness (Nazaré), taken in an open car from a cathedral to its own basilica. Most of the people travel the route barefoot (some faithful even go all the way on their knees!), and struggle with their couple of million neighbors for a chance to touch the rope that pulls the open car. The procession takes place in Belém do Pará, and foreigners are more than welcome.
Probably the 2nd most widespread celebration, only behind Carnival, Festas Juninas can be experienced in almost any city during June. Since the party is traditionally a way of thanking St. John the Baptist for the rain that arrives in the middle of the year, the biggest events happen in the driest region of Brazil, namely, the northeast.
The date also coincides with the harvest season of corn, what makes the staple the main ingredient of the food served in the colorful tents built specially for the Festas Juninas. And the food… is itself enough to convince St. John to keep watering the country every June. Even if you have tried every regional cuisine in Brazil, you will still be delighted by the freshness of the sweet corn cakes, soups, and warm wines presented in the party. And by the visual spectacle of the decorative geometric flags, colorful baloons and collective dances. And by the lightheartedness of the stalls selling kisses, snap’n’pops, and other unusual products.
Summing up, arriving at a Festa Junina is like entering a folkloric amusement park for a day – or more. In Caruaru and Campina Grande, famous for hosting the biggest parties of this kind, the celebration lasts for the whole month of June.