Carnaval — Annual Fun on Terceira … In Person or On TV

Performers on stage in 2019 in Porto Martins Carnaval. Singing and dancing by community members dressed as police and a prisoner.
Terceira may only have two movie theaters and no mall, but every spring you can see how the island comes together to enjoy Carnaval, with bands, music, hilarious skits, political discourse (sung by costumed performers) and all-around camaraderie. (This shot was from 2019, I was not feeling up to shooting for 2023).

Technology changes many things in Terceira, some changes good, some not so good. But technology hasn’t (yet) changed the age-old tradition of Carnaval; the fun-filled days celebrating with neighbors prior to observing the Roman Catholic church’s season of sacrifice prior to Easter. Carnaval is an international celebration and the remote island of Terceira adapts for fun every year.

This year (2023) was slightly different for us, and that technology saved us. A local TV channel broadcast live from the streets of Praia da Vitoria, Angra do Heroismo, and several of our favorite villages. We did get one chance last week to share the “seniors” performance, seven groups in one auditorium, before we both came down with a nasty cough. (We tested, it’s just a cough)! So we stayed home, ate soup, drank Aguardente, and tried to enjoy recuperation together. Fortunately, our local TV channel brought us right into the action, with broadcasts from streets and Casa da Povos (literally House of the People), the community center in the center of each village.

I should explain Carnaval in Terceira! Nearly the whole island turns out. (While seated at the Ramo Grande auditorium, a beautiful young lady sitting next to me explained that on mainland Portugal, many claim that the Azores consists of eight islands and one “fun park,” since they party, have street bullfights, and enjoy life so much)! Each Freguesia (parish) sports a group of performers, band members, and comedians in festive costumes who spend about 45 minutes singing, dancing, and doing skits on stage.

The performances feature jokes, social discourse (this year unity with Ukraine, city hall spending habits, etc.) separated by original songs or island favorites to the accompaniment of each village’s Filharmonica; drums, horns, guitars, lutes, and violins. The dancers “cover” skit set changes with chorus line-style dancing while performers change costumes, place new props, and then dancing stops for another “scene” in the action.

I am fascinated by two major elements of the many Carnaval presentations each year. One, my wife and her family get together, laugh, sing, and smile and laugh. That’s awesome. The other is the performers. No one brings in paid “talent,” very few are even what one could dub ‘semi-pro,” but these are the people of the island who pay for their costumes, practice, and perform each year. One group we saw included our doctor’s receptionist, our seamstress, carpenters, brick masons, handymen, girls we sun next to at the beach … you get the idea. During Carnaval, crime is non-existent, fights virtually unheard of, and the minimal police presence, crowd control, and traffic control are all done with smiles.

So while we inwardly curse some technology, this Carnaval I realized how nice it is that the island has reached this “progress.” In centuries past, performers and audiences would stay in one place and others would come to enjoy, walking and using horse and donkey carts. This year buses carried troups and equipment, including sound systems, cameras and a multitude of musical instruments. The local TV setup was excellent; we could enjoy most elements of Carnaval in the comfort of our own home, near tissues and medicines (including Aguardente).

Retiring here is sometimes very trying. When folks ask me, I always say it has its pros and cons. To thrive here, I have gotten better (still not perfected) the spirit of my neighbors; when living through the cons, remember the pros. It will all even out in the end!!!

Boa Carnaval, my friends!