Photos and video: Parades amaze at Carnival in Rio

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RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival built its fame over the last 300 years as the world’s largest street party.

The event tops the list as the most important holiday in Brazil, eclipsing even Christmas and Easter in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. Most Brazilian states observe two national holidays on the days preceding Ash Wednesday, specifically for celebrating this festival.

Rio’s Carnival consists of two parts: the street parties and the samba school competition.

‘Blocos’ start the party

Carnival in Rio
Carnival-goer Fabio (left), from Brasilia, stands with a friend at the street party of Ipanema. (Rosemary Meacham-Zittel)

The street parties, or blocos, are a collection of block parties held over the course of five days, with each neighborhood organizing and throwing its own party. The generally accepted rule for each bloco appeared to be that you had to go in costume, and the costume had to be playful or silly and have lots of bright colors.

To this end, there were dozens of men wearing pink tutus, girls in leotards or bikini tops with mermaid skirts, and a diverse array of fairies, devils and amalgamated animals. In their festive garb, thousands of revelers radiated jolliness and warmth.

At the block party of Ipanema, Fabio (pictured above) said he attends Carnival every year.

“I love the samba groups. The two principal days are wonderful. I love it,” he said. “Rio for me is the best place in Brazil. You have lots of things, you have mountains, you have beach, you have the people.”

Samba at the heart

Carnival in Rio
A float passes during the Sambadrome parade Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in Rio de Janeiro. (Rosemary Meacham-Zittel)

The samba school parade competitions take place at the Sambadrome, the heart of Rio’s Carnival. To call it simply “a competition” fails to do justice to the extravagance that makes the Rio event so famous.

As an indication of how important the parades are, even after 20 people were injured Sunday night and another 12 on Monday night, the samba competition continued.

This year, 26 “schools” participated in two categories across four nights, each with its own hour-long parade and 3,000 to 5,000 participants dancing simultaneously to its band’s original samba music. Schools are judged on their dancing, choreography, theme, costume design, music, timing, spacing and overall impression.

In an evening’s performance of six schools, the show lasted for eight hours, with more than 20,000 performers parading down the half-mile long concourse. The music blasted as loud as a rock concert, and the majority of the crowd could not help but dance along. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours of preparation were poured into this one performance.

The injuries did little to dampen the party atmosphere and conviviality, with all types of people mingling together amicably. Indeed, the whole occasion took on the feeling of a major international sporting event, with people wishing each other “good carnival” at the end of every conversation, as if bestowing luck upon each other’s teams.

As carnival-goer Roberto, in town from Peru, said, “In Carnival, there is no distinction between races and classes. Brazil not only embraces diversity, but celebrates it.”