“There are many shadows, but remember, where there is a shadow there must be a light.” Anon
No doubt about it, the Brazilian Mardi Gras known as O Carnival is probably the most amazing in the entire world. Most Brazilian cities will have a celebracao but nothing has more glitz and decadence than the one in Rio de Janeiro. During the official days of Carnival that end the day before Lent, Samba Schools, actually neighbourhood groups, compete in parades that weave their way through the streets from sunset to dawn. Costumes are incredibly expensive and complex though that is a relative term for some hardly even exist. The highlight of the opulent parades during two nights draws top musicians, statesmen and beauty queens as well as tourists from many parts of the world.
Doris and I knew nothing about Carnival except the little bit our maid told us while we were in language school. We had rented a house that another missionary couple vacated and their maid needed work so she fit right in with us. With our limited understanding of Portuguese we were not able to grab onto every word she said. But we got this—she invited us to attend a Carnival parade through downtown Campinas for she was part of it. Doris and I attended that parade and we recall that she was wonderfully costumed. We didn’t have a baby sitter so I assume we carried Monica, our baby, along with us. The Carnival there was quiet compared to the one in Rio but in any case that was the only time during our years in Brazil we attended a Carnival.
Here’s the reason. The churches not only took a stand against the out-of-control decadence of the Carnival but they organized retreats for their people, especially the youth. Those retreats were well away from the Carnival and mostly outside the cities. The church took its stand against the Carnival for it understood so very well that it encouraged ridding oneself of any inhibitions. Carnival lured everyone to move freely and wildly to the mesmerizing Samba music of the Brazilian bands.
It is interesting that the practice sessions for the Schools of Samba go on for two months before Carnival. These Schools work on their music, dancing and the organization of their parts in the parades. Behind the scenes are the ladies who sew and prepare the costumes; often the poor among them spend their small incomes on costumes rather than putting food on their tables. African culture plays a big role in the Carnival festivities in the states such as Bahia and cities in the North of Brazil. Added to that, many Northern Caboclinhos (hicks from the interior) dress in traditional Indian garb and bright feathers.
The Carnival seems to be the time to commit all the sins in the book for the purity demands of Lent are approaching. Lent t is considered to be the season for fasting and penitence when the sins of the flesh are to be left behind. Lent is preparation for Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday and continues for forty days to Good Friday. As believers in Christ our Saviour, we turn our backs on the festivities of the Carnival and instead turn our hearts and minds towards the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. There really is no place where the Christian faith says it is o.k. for us to throw our morals and inhibitions to the wind. The cost is too high—a cost we see every day in our world.
The Easter message is so full of historical facts that confidence builds as we ponder the scripture record. We all are ready to place our faith in something or someone if facts commend themselves to our reasoning processes. The story of Easter then becomes personal as we make it not only a matter for belief but just as important, the guide for all of life. That includes eternity. An old hymn proclaims part of that message with the words, “A Wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord, He taketh my burdens away…”