The Brazilian Carnival, properly spelled Carnaval, is an annual festival in Brazil held four days before Ash Wednesday. On certain days of Lent, Roman Catholics and some other Christians traditionally abstained from the consumption of meat and poultry—hence the term "carnival," from carnelevare, "to remove (literally, "raise") meat." Carnival celebrations are believed to have roots in the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which, adapted to Christianity, became a farewell to sex in a season of religious discipline to practice repentance and prepare for Christ's death and resurrection.
Brazilian Carnival exhibits some differences from its European counterparts, having mixed African, Native, German and Euro elements. Furthermore, rhythm, participation, and costume vary from one region of Brazil to another. For example, in the southeastern cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, organized parades led by samba schools vie for prizes on the "sambodromo" open stage. Only samba-school affiliates participate in the shows. Smaller cities often have no public events but promote balls in recreational clubs.
The northeastern cities of Salvador, Porto Seguro and Recife have organized groups parading through streets, but watchers are also welcome to dance. They follow the "trio elétrico" floats through the city streets.
Rio de Janeiro style
Modern Brazilian Carnival originated in Rio de Janeiro in 1641, when the city's bourgeoisie imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. It originally mimicked the European form of the festival, later absorbing and creolizing elements derived from Native American and African cultures.
In the late 19th century, the cordões (literally laces or strings in Portuguese) were introduced in Rio de Janeiro. These were pageant groups that paraded through city avenues performing on instruments and dancing. Today they are known as Blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costumes or special t-shirts with themes and/or logos. Blocos are generally associated with particular neighborhoods; they include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revellers.
Block parades have become an expressive feature of Rio's Carnival. Today, they number more than 100 and the groups increase each year. Blocos can be formed by small or large groups of revelers with a distinct title with a often funny pun. They may also note their neighborhood or social status. Before the show, they gather in a square, then parade in sections of the city, often near the beach. Some blocos never leave one street and have a particular place, such as a bar, to attract viewers. Bloc parades start in January, and may last until the Sunday after Carnival.
Blocos parade in nearly every neighborhoood, but the most famous ones parade in Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, and in downtown Rio. Organizers often compose their own music themes that are added to the performance and singing of classic "marchinhas" and samba popular songs. "Cordão do bola preta" ("Polka Dot Bloco"), that goes through the heart of Rio's historical center, and "Suvaco do Cristo" (Christ's statue armpit, refering to the angle of the statue seen from the neighborhood), near the Botanical Garden, are some of the most famous groups. Monobloco has become so famous that it plays all year round at parties and small concerts.
Samba schools are very large groups of performers, financed by respected organizations (as well as illegal gambling groups), who work year round in preparation for Carnival. Samba Schools perform in the Sambadrome, which runs four entire nights. They are part of an official competition, divided into seven divisions, in which a single school is declared the winner, according to costume, flow, theme, and band music quality and performance. Some samba schools also hold street parties in their neighborhoods, through which they parade along with their followers.
There are several major differences between Carnival in the state of Bahia in Brazil's Northeast Region and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The musical styles are different in each carnival; in Bahia there are many rhythms, including samba, samba-reggae, axé, and others, which are performed on a truck equipped with giant speakers and a platform where musicians play called a trio-elétrico. Massive numbers of people follow the trucks singing and dancing. The "Indian" groups were inspired by Western movies. The groups dress up as Native Americans and take on Native American names. Blocos Afros, or Afro groups, were influenced by the Black Pride Movement in the United States, independence movements in Africa, and reggae music that denounced racism and oppression. The groups inspired a renewed pride in African heritage.
The North East state of Pernambuco has unique Carnivals in its present capital Recife and in its colonial capital Olinda. Their main rhythms are the frevo and the maracatu. Galo da Madrugada is the biggest carnival parade in the world, considering the number of participants, according The Guinness Book of World Records. It means "early morning rooster" and parades, as the name suggests, in the morning only. Frevo is Pernambucan-style dance with African and acrobatic influences, as it is fast and electrifying, often using an open umbrella and frequent legs and arms movements.
Unlike Salvador and Rio, the festivities in Recife, Olinda and Itamaraca do not include group competitions. Instead, groups dance and play instruments side by side. Troças and maracatus, mostly of African influence, begin one week before Carnival and end a week later. Some well-known groups have funny names, such as: Tell me you love me, damn it, The Midnight Man (with a famous giant dancing doll that leads the group), Crazy Lover, Olinda's Underpants, and The Door.
 Minas Gerais style Minas also holds some important carnival parades, mainly in the historic cities of Ouro Preto, Mariana and Diamantina. They are held mostly by students' houses, which attract a majority of young people from the neighbor states. There are also other major parades in the region, such as the one in Pompéu.
Carnival in Minas Gerais is often characterized by blocos carnavalescos with varying themes and fantasy styles, almost always accompanied by a brass and drums band. However, Minas Gerais carnival was first influenced by the Rio de Janeiro Carnival (several cities have their own samba schools). Later some Axé groups from Bahia came to play in the state every carnival season.
Some southern cities such as Curitiba, Florianopolis, Camboriu, and Porto Alegre have smaller samba school groups or blocos, but like São Paulo state towns, they seem to prefer balls to street dancing.