26 February to 5 March
The Carnival, or Mardi Gras, celebrations in Madeira take place on Saturday with a fabulous parade of floats and remains an essentially folk festival.
Groups with thousands of participants flood the main streets of Funchal with music and contagious enjoyment. This is a week of healthy madness that invades the hotels, bars and clubs, turning them into permanent parties.
In an atmosphere of effusive revelry there are surprising examples of creativity and imagination and there is no shortage of daring caricatures in the Cortejo Trapalhão costume parade on Shrove Tuesday.
From the Wednesday before Carnival allow yourself to be captivated by the magic of Carnival in Funchal city centre, especially the central walkway of Avenida Arriaga, which becomes the focus for numerous street events including carnival music, performances, pageants and events of various kinds that contribute to rousing the carnival spirit in tourists and residents alike.
The morning of the Friday before Carnival is given over to children. A thousand of so young carnival goers from various schools and kindergartens in Funchal, all in costume, parade through the city centre (Avenida Arriaga), where they are entertained with carnival fun.
On the afternoon of the Friday before Carnival, the city centre is again the scene of another highly original and creative event. With an energy that sweeps everybody along with it, hundreds of carnival goers from the Funchal Community Development Association parade along Avenida Arriaga to the Municipal Gardens, where they perform a show in which they are the leading players.
Parade of Floats
On Saturday night the centre of Funchal is thronged with thousands of tourists and residents who come to watch the parade of floats, one of the major attractions of the Madeira Carnival. Over a thousand participants spread between ten groups and a dozen floats parade to the sound of carnival music, all of them choreographed and rehearsed beforehand and dressed in eye-catching costumes, radiating an unbeatable enthusiasm that gets everyone going.
On the Tuesday of Carnival everyone is free to display their originality. Carnival goers come out spontaneously onto the streets in fancy dress, mostly grotesque or caricatured, to take part individually or in groups in a typically Madeiran informal parade in which humour and social satire about regional, national or international events form the inspiration for the throngs of participants.
History of Carnival
Madeira Carnival traditions have deep roots. Records survive from the end of the nineteenth century describing the Carnival revelries in the Region. These ranged from the traditional “mascarados”, street revellers who dressed up in old ragged clothes and blackened their faces with soot, to private balls where the partygoers wore more conventional fancy dress based on themes such as well-known personalities, occupations or objects. By the twentieth century, certain streets in Funchal, especially Rua da Carreira, had become thronged with carnival goers whose rampages included throwing objects and running battles involving water, eggs, flour, tomatoes, streamers and confetti.
These carnival capers grew so bad that the authorities were forced to introduce restrictions. Nevertheless, the locals were not deterred from keeping up the tradition of celebrating Carnival in a lively way in the city’s streets. At the same time, the private balls continued and even increased with the opening of large ballrooms at the Municipal
Theatre, Ateneu Comercial and Solar D. Mécia. Later, with the growth of the hotel industry in the 1970s, balls began to be organised by luxury hotels such as Reid’s Palace and the Savoy. In the late 1970s the Carnival festivities moved to the streets with a new format and organisation, rapidly developing into today’s internationally famous tourist attraction, the Madeira Carnival.
The Parade of Floats involves the organised groups that took part in the private Carnival balls (in ballrooms and hotels) coming onto the streets to share their creativity more widely with residents and visitors. The Carnival festivities received the official stamp of approval when the Regional Secretariat of Tourism took over the organisation of the Parade of Floats and the â€œTrapalhãoâ€ Parade.
Since then they have followed a set route, allowing carnival goers to have fun while at the same time enabling the parades to be better appreciated by the spectators lining the route. This has also contributed to maintaining interest and the Region’s carnival traditions, resulting in the fame of the carnival parade growing until it has become one of the biggest tourist events in Madeira.
Carnival Traditions in Madeira
These ranged from the traditional “mascarados”, street revellers who dressed up in old ragged clothes and blackened their faces with soot, to private balls where the partygoers wore more conventional fancy dress based on themes such as well-known personalities, occupations or objects.
Among the Carnival traditions that still survive today are the so-called “robberies”. Groups of friends, suitably disguised, get together to surprise relatives and friends by knocking on their doors, pretending they have come to “steal” the traditional Carnival delicacies, “sonhos” and “malassadas”. The result is good, clean indoor fun.
“The Festa dos Compadres”
Madeira Carnival tradition dating back over half a century is one of the genuine cultural expressions of the people of Santana. The high point of this festivity marked by satire and social criticism is the trial of a man and a woman (the compadre and the comadre) for the moral, religious or social â€œcrimesâ€ they have committed during the year, the whole thing involving much irony and not a little sarcasm. This festival can be said to mark the beginning of Carnival in Madeira, as it usually takes place about a week before.