Christians and Carnival

Bright colours, exotic costumes, those well known Brazilian rhythms, what’s not to love about one of Brazil’s greatest cultural exports? It’s carnival time here so there has been a national holiday from Saturday-Tuesday and it’s big business. In Rio de Janeiro, 20o ooo spectators had tickets for the street parade. There were many thousands more on the surrounding streets and beaches. Essentially, the parade is a competition where the samba schools compete with their costumes, decorations and overall display to be crowned the winner. The schools spend the entire year preparing and each float has its own theme. The first festivals in Rio date back to the 1720s but, over time, the festivities have become bigger, more elaborate and more extravagant with many participants barely covering their modesty. This is pretty ironic as it’s illegal to sunbathe topless in Brazil but at the carnival anything goes! Sadly there is a lot of crime at carnival time too. Opportune thieves prey on tourists and the incidences of rape and disorderly behaviour are high.

I was keen to see what São Luis had to offer at carnival time but was told the city’s offering is poor compared to the likes of a Rio. I was told it is disorganised and full of drunks. What I have seen is people randomly dressed up in the streets. Apparently it’s a little like Halloween in that, tradionationally, folk would dress up and go out on the streets and ask for money if you would hold their doll. It doesn’t happen so much these days and people never went door to door. When the scream mask came out there were a lot of break ins and criminality and the whole dressing up practice largely died a death, pardon the pun. 

It is perhaps not surprising that evangelical Christians don’t like to take part in carnival activities here. Carnival is associated with drinking, partying and worldly music and dancing. Parents would tend to pull their kids out of carnival activities in school if it goes against their convictions. We are just back from small group and some parents were sharing about the tension that brings when children want to take part in the party but Christian parents often remain solid. Our church’s verse for the year is:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”Romans 12:2

It is interesting that Catholic people do often take part in the festivities. This is perhaps demonstrative of the fact that many Catholics are Catholics by title alone. 

So what do Christians do during carnival? Some churches use the opportunity to book a time away together as a big group and others carry out evangelistic activities. Our church held a conference for married couples on Monday at a “sitio” (big house in the country with land). We enjoyed the day and the teaching. There was a visiting pastor leading the morning sessions who informed us that 35% of married couples separate after 5 years in Brazil. We know the stat is something like 50% in the UK and US. He went through some fundamentals and truths of marriage using verses like Genesis 2:18-25. It’s always good to be reminded of these things and I (Linsey) found some of the cultural applications interesting. A common issue in Brazil can be the parents who do not want to let their son or daughter fly the nest and interfere in the marital relationship, perhaps this is a negative by-product of close knit families. This obviously happens in the UK too, to an extent, but is perhaps exacerbated here where fewer young people have lived independently before they enter into marriage. Remember too, this is still a Catholic country where having serious relationships or getting pregnant before marriage is frowned upon and couples might be encouraged to marry early. A couple might not have a lot of money to get started and inevitably the parents end up being involved, or they may all be under the same roof. The latter is not uncommon. Alas, the many challenges of marriage cannot be resolved in one day but it was a helpful start.


If anyone fancies visiting Brazil for carnival, the Christians here would advise, don’t bother. 

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