The first known settlers in Portugal were groups of wandering Celts. They brought their pagan religions and festivals with them. When the Romans arrived around 210 BC, they called it Lusitania. Christianity arrived in what would eventually become Portugal around the end of the first century A.D. The people of Lusitania had their own religion. When they embraced Christianity, they added it to a number of their existing festivals.
Although most of the Portuguese festivals revolve around honoring the saints, Carnaval has roots mostly in the pagan religions of the settlers along with some Christian traditions. Those early roots included fertility rituals for good harvests.
There is a lot of tomfoolery going on as well as parades and parties. The idea behind it is for people to get the urge to sin out of their system. If you are interested in reading more, you can go here. It is the Portuguese version of Nola’s Mardi Gras, celebrated over the three days before Lent (and penitence) kick in.
That first year – well, it was interesting. Many Portuguese enjoy watching Rio’s Carnaval on the TV. I have to admit that in many ways I lived a fairly sheltered life growing up in Fundamentalism. That first year of watching select portions of Rio’s televised (and uninhibited) parades was quite a revelation – in more ways than one. The Portuguese parades were more conservative, possibly due to the significantly cooler temperatures.
So, are you ready to join the party in March of 2014?