The day carnival was postponed … Then Brazil celebrated it twice

. Feb 24, 2020
Baron of Rio Branco death postponed Brazilian Carnival in 1912 The death of the Baron of Rio Branco postponed Brazilian Carnival in 1912. Photo: National Archives

A sensationalist 2017 Daily Mail headline warned that the “culture wars” developing in Brazil could lead to the cancellation of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Since early 2016, while the country was going through its deepest economic crisis in recorded history amid political chaos that would lead to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, a series of international news broke with the traditional image of Brazil, arguing that many cities throughout the country would go as far as canceling the nation’s biggest party due to budget cuts.

Still, Carnival survived, and the whole country is already back on the streets this weekend, ignoring its problems and celebrating.

A century ago, however, Brazil did almost cancel its Carnival—or at least tried to postpone it. This led to a year when the nation ended up two Carnivals, consolidating one of the strongest symbols of the country.

</p> <p>The controversy was sparked by the death of Brazil&#8217;s Foreign Affairs Minister, one week before the Carnival of 1912, and the country entered a process of mourning just days before the people were supposed to be out on the streets partying. All over Rio de Janeiro—the capital of Brazil at the time—the rumor was that Carnival would be canceled or postponed.</p> <h2>The Baron of Rio Branco</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="baron of rio branco" class="wp-image-31927" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>The Baron of Rio Rranco (second from the left) is considered the father of Brazilian diplomacy. Photo: National Archives</figcaption></figure> <p>José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, the Baron of Rio Branco, was more than a regular cabinet minister. When he died aged 66, he had been the leading figure of <a href="">Brazilian diplomacy</a> for a decade, gaining respect in Brazilian politics and was considered a national hero, as one of the founding fathers of Brazil. The capital of the northern state of Acre is named Rio Branco in his honor, as is the national school for diplomats. This was the result of him helping to consolidate the territory of the country and develop a sense of national identity.</p> <p>This odd situation of Brazil was analysed by diplomat Luís Cláudio Villafañe G. Santos in his 2010 book “O dia em que adiaram o Carnaval: política externa e a construção do Brasil” (The day carnival was postponed: Foreign Policy and the building of Brazil).</p> <p>The focus of the book is on showing how important the Baron of Rio Branco was for the country, leading to a debate about the cancelation of the already popular party. One of the Baron&#8217;s legacies was his idea of Brazil as a peaceful nation, with defined boundaries and a large territorial expanse. He was, to a large extent, responsible for the creation of the very idea of Brazil as a nation, and of a Brazilian nationality developed by way of foreign policy.</p> <p>His death on February 10 led to a period of official mourning all over the country, and many in the Brazilian press questioned if it would be wrong to have a party in the streets at such a sad moment for Brazil.</p> <p>The entire week between the death of Rio Branco and the official start of Carnival was full of public debates about the controversy of having a national party during a period of mourning. While many would argue that it was disrespectful to celebrate in the aftermath of such sad news, others knew it would not be a good idea to just change the date of the festivities.</p> <p>Historian Débora Paiva Monteiro studied the events as part of her Master&#8217;s dissertation at Universidade Federal Fluminense. In <em>“</em><a href=""><em>O Sonho de Todo Folião —Um Ano com Dois Carnavais</em></a><em>”</em> (or &#8220;Every eveler&#8217;s dream—A year with two Carnivals&#8221;), she describes the debates about celebrating amid mourning in the country.</p> <p>Even the president of Brazil, Hermes da Fonseca, entered the debate, saying it was not his place to make any such decisions about Carnival. &#8220;It is a party of the people, and the people should decide if it should be postponed or not,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>But the Brazilian elites ended up deciding to change the date of the party in a tribute to the minister. By the morning of February 17, 1912, the first day of Carnival, several newspapers in Rio de Janeiro announced that the holiday would only be celebrated in April, postponing Carnival.</p> <h2>Two Carnival celebrations for the price of one</h2> <p>But Carnival isn&#8217;t the strongest national Brazilian symbol for no reason. Instead of canceling or postponing the 1912 Carnival, Brazil had two parties instead: one on its original date and another 40 years later.</p> <p>Though some official clubs had made a decision to postpone their parties, the Brazilian population seemed not to care. While multitudes attended tributes to the Baron of Rio Branco, the Carnival street parties were even bigger than Rio de Janeiro was used to. The press ended up admitting that Carnival had in fact happened, even if they had &#8220;postponed&#8221; it earlier. Without many of the official parties, revelers were on the streets in numbers.</p> <p>But the spontaneous celebrations on the streets were not enough to satisfy the people’s thirst for parties. As Carnival had been officially postponed until April, people would go back to the festivities 40 days later.</p> <p>On Ash Wednesday—the final day of Carnival—the Brazilian media was already reporting on the spontaneous parties that weekend and preparing for the big club festivals that had been postponed.</p> <p>&#8220;They announced that from then on it was time to prepare for the second time of partying. Many remarked that April&#8217;s Carnival would shine even more,&#8221; Mr. Monteiro explains.</p> <p>The two celebrations probably served to cement carnival as one of the most important symbols of the country until today. While it was already a strong celebration nationwide, it was not yet the “official” party of Brazil. This would only happen in the 1930s, with the development of a state strategy to develop a stronger national identity under then-President Getúlio Vargas. Carnival was consecrated by the state in 1935, with the creation of an official samba school parade. 

Daniel Buarque

Daniel Buarque is a Brazilian journalist and author of the book Brasil, País do Presente (in English: Brazil: Country of the Present). He is currently completing a doctorate on Brazil’s global image at King’s College University in London.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at