Very colorful Carnaval float with a giant clock, populated by people in colorful costumes. The audience is looking up. Photo courtesy of All rights reserved.

Dates of Carnaval in Rio

One of the world's best-kept secrets is the formula to discover the dates of Carnaval. They change every year, according to the date of Easter Sunday in the Catholic calendar. If you need a quick answer, here are the dates for the next decade.

Dates of Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro for the next decade. There's a blackboard floating with the dates in the middle of complicated mathemathical formulas, and a dog wearing reading glasses who did the calculations.
It took our assistant a little while to put these dates together. Feel free to share.

There are very complicated elaborate explanations about how these days are set. We tried to simplify as much as possible not to bore you.

How to  estimate the dates

Carnaval is usually in February or March. This is a four-day celebration from Saturday through Tuesday. To find the correct dates, you must know when Easter happens first. Then just count back the weeks. Seven weeks to be precise. Carnaval Sunday is 49 days before Easter Sunday. Seems easy, right?

Three Cariocas enjoying street festivities in Ipanema. The girl is dressed up as the character Mario, and the two boys are shirtless wearing pink bunny ears.
Bunny ears are a popular accessory among boys and girls. Mostly because it makes them look cute.

Not really. Easter changes dates every year, so we are back to square one. Easter happens on the first Sunday after the full moon that falls on or after the Spring Equinox. The Spring Equinox is the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. We are starting to move into ancient history, do not be alarmed.

This is the way things were defined by the Council of Nicaea in AD325, so who are we to question? In AD590 Gregorius I, the Great, set a date named “dominica ad carne levandas”, that supposedly was eventually shortened into the term Carnaval we use today in the Portuguese language. The spelling is also like this in French.

Masques Nicois, Grand album souvenirs du carnaval 1898. Reproduction.
The cover of a Carnaval illustration book published in Nice, France, in 1898.

There are more complications. From circa 46 BC to 1582 most countries used the Julian calendar. We will thus stick to the Gregorian Calendar. The Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar, so they celebrate Easter on a different date. The first records of Carnaval in Brazil date back to around the 1720s, though, with the arrival of Portuguese immigrants coming from the islands of the Azores and Cabo Verde.

What's the easy way?

You don’t want to count back days or weeks, there’s a shortcut. You already know the connection to Easter. Well, before Easter there is a period called Lent. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday, and it is part of the Catholic calendar. In Brazil and a few other countries, it is a national holiday. All you have to do is look it up. The day before is Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. The day Carnaval ends.

A blackboard with a man thinking about a question and a bright idea. He is looking at a Carnaval wreath.
With this neat little trick there's no need to count back days or weeks. Don't spread the word.

Now that you have all the elements to know the dates, pick out a year and start making your plans. We hope to see you soon!