Every year, during 4 days before Ash Wednesday, the Brazilian Carnival (Portuguese: Carnaval) takes place in Brazil. It marks the beginning of the Lent. The origins of this carnival date back to the ancient Greek spring festival in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine. The Romans adopted the celebration with Bacchanalia (feasts in honour of Bacchus, the Roman equivalent to Dionysus), and Saturnalia. Saturnalia was later modified by the Roman Catholic Church into a festival preceding the Ash Wednesday. During Lent, Roman Catholics are supposed to abstain from all bodily pleasures, including the consumption of meat. "Carnevale", in ancient Italian, means exactly that: to stay away from meat ("carne" still means meat in modern Portuguese), and this would be the origin of the word carnaval.
Generally, the Carnival in Brazil is a period of feast when people may forget some social rules and just have fun. It normally starts on the Friday before Ash Wednesday and finishes on Ash Wednesday itself. Most Brazilian offices and business are closed for the week of carnival.
The modern Brazilian Carnival has its roots in 1845, Rio de Janeiro, when the city's bourgeoisie brought the tradition of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. Originally, it was similar to the European style of festivals, acquiring over time elements derived from Native American and African cultures.
In the late 19th century, the cordoes were introduced in Rio de Janeiro. Cordoes were groups of people parading through the streets playing music and dancing. Today they are known as blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costumes or special t-shirts according to certain themes of Carnival celebrations. The blocks are generally associated with particular neighborhoods or suburbs and include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revelers. These blocks have become a big part of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival and nowadays there are more than 100 blocks, and each year this number increases. Each block has its territory or street to parade on, and for the big ones the streets are usually closed for car traffic. These processions start mostly in January and last till the end of Carnival.
Of course, nowadays, the Brazilian Carnival can not be imagined without samba - a mix of Angolan semba, European polka, African batuques, Cuban habanera and other styles. It wasn't part of carnival until 1917, but today the carnival is organized by the samba schools, which first appeared in 1928. Samba schools are very large, well-financed organizations that work all year round in preparation for the Carnival. Parading in the Sambadrome lasts over four full nights and is part of an official competition, in which a single samba school will be declared as the winner of the year.
There are three cities in Brazil in which the best carnival processions take place: Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Olinda. Rio's generous carnival is one of the world's most famous. Scores of spectacular floats surrounded by thousands and thousands of dancers, singers, and drummers dressed in elaborate costumes parade through the enormous Sambodromo Stadium. It is an epic event televised around the world.
The city of Salvador is famous for its carnival as well. For both cities, Rio and Salvador, it is a grand festival before the Lent. But there are some differences between them in the celebration of carnival - Rio is famous for its Samba schools, elaborate costumes (or at times no costumes), and an enormous parade held at the Sambodromo Stadium, while Salvador has Brazil's street carnivals, lasting for weeks. Also, there are several major differences between Carnival in the state of Bahia in Northeast Region of Brazil and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The musical styles are different in each carnival; in Bahia there are many rhythms, including samba, samba-reggae, axe-music and others, played from a truck equipped with giant speakers and a platform where musicians play the so called trio-eletrico. Large numbers of people follow the trucks singing and dancing. There are also groups inspired by Western movies from the United States. They dress up as Native Americans and take on Native American names. Blocos Afros, or Afro groups, were influenced by the Black Pride Movement in the United States, independence movements in Africa, and reggae music that denounced racism and oppression. These groups inspired a renewed pride in African heritage. Bahia's carnival is perhaps the world's largest public festivity, attracting three million crowds that dance through the night in Salvador's historic colonial streets.
The state of Pernambuco, another Northeast Region state, has a unique Carnival in its capital - Recife, and in the near city of Olinda. Here, the favorite main rhythms are Frevo and Maracatu, and Galo da Madrugada. It is the biggest carnival parade in the world considering the number of participants, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
In the next years, the Carnival Sunday falls on the following dates: for 2009 on February 22nd, and for 2010 on February 14th.