Brazil: The Best Country for Festivals?

Article by: Kevin Raub

Fri December 20, 2013 | 00:00 AM

Did someone say "festa?" You're in Brazil, of course they did! This South American workhouse may be the country of the future, what with its emerging economy and abundant natural resources and all, but Brazil needs no excuse to throw a party. Some of the world's most famous and elaborate festivals are here – we're talking about Carnival and Reveillon, both in Rio de Janeiro – but that's merely the tip of the party horn! Brazil hosts travel-worthy extravaganzas from Oiapoque in the north to Chuí in the south, and everywhere in between, you're never far from an impromptu beach bonanza. Bem-vindo ao Brasil! Bring your dancing shoes!

Carnival  (Rio de Janeiro)

Photo credit: Fotos Gratis Creative Commons

Brazil throws no party…scratch that. The world throws no party like Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Unofficially, it's a month-long ordeal of house parties, block parties, masquerade balls, parades, samba school throwdowns and spontaneous festive events; officially, some Cariocas spend an entire year preparing for the four days of scheduled spectacle attended by millions at Carnival's sacred altar, the iconic Sambódromo stadium.

Reveillon (Rio de Janeiro)

Photo credit: Publius Vergilius

From the firework extravaganza to the parades of Cariocas dressed head-to-toe in white, Rio's Copacabana Beach welcomes a mob of millions to ring in the new year every Dec. 31. While everyone traditionally wears white, its origins are secular, as evidenced by throngs of Candomblé practitioners sending wishes out to sea in small boats to celebrate the feast day of Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea. Everyone else drinks and dances across the sands until Rio kisses them at midnight!

Festa Junina/Festa de São João (Campina Grande and Caruaru)

Photo credit: Embratur

Brazil taps into its inner cowboy for Festa Junina, aka Festa de São João (St. John Festival). Men dress up as farm boys – large straw hats and overalls included – while women go the equally-countrified Midwest farmer's daughter route, complete with pigtails and fake gap teeth. Hoedowns take place in thatched-roof open-air barns, where country music and square dancing fuel the fun. Northeast Brazil's goes especially all out, with Campina Grande and Caruaru competing annually for biggest São João festival in the world honors. Yeehaw!

Festa do Bonfim (Salvador)

Photo credit: Fotos GOVBA

While Catholic in origin, the Festa do Bonfim reflects Brazil's close ties with Africa's Candomblé. The main event features an 8km procession of Bahianas in traditional garb (turbans, long white skirts) from downtown Salvador's Church of Conceição da Praia to the 18th Century Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, where aromatised water is used in a step-washing ritual soundtracked by Yoruba-language chanting and dancing. It's gorgeous, but secular looky-loos go for inevitable heaps of traditional Bahian cuisine, samba, capoeira and…caipirinhas!

The Passion Play (Nova Jerusalem)

Photo credit: Karla Vidal

Blink twice and you'll swear you died and went to Jerusalem at this open-air theater – the world's largest – constructed in 1968 as a model of the Holy City solely to put on this annual Passion of Christ performance. An average audience of 8000 or so attends the nightly two-hour performance, which goes on for nine days and features many of Brazil's best-known telenovela actors. 

Bumba-Meu-Boi (São Luis)

Photo credit: Embratur

What do an ugly pregnant girl, a priest, a man in drag and a resurrected bull have in common? No, not a Halloween party in Sodom. They are all central characters in Brazil's folktale-turned-festival known as Bumba-Meu-Boi, celebrated with particular fervor in the historic UNESCO-protected Northeastern city of São Luis, Maranhão. A tradition dating back to the 18th Century, this tall tale marrying history and folklore is told via dancers and Afro-Brazilian musicians parading through the cobbled streets in brightly-colored costumes that represent various mythical characters.