The ancient Carnival held in the village of Podence is one of the most important traditional events in northern Portugal. The local community’s massive participation has preserved this tradition for centuries. Its abiding importance in the region’s cultural events was a crucial factor in UNESCO’s classifying the Carnival of Podence as an Intangible World Heritage.
During Carnival, the devilish figures of the Caretos roam the streets of Podence, making lots of noise to disturb the usual peace and quiet of the village. These “troublemakers” are boys in costumes with colorful fringe and masks made of tin or leather with pointed noses; rattles are attached around the waist.
Originally the Caretos were linked with the figure of the “devil on the loose” and represented the excesses, euphoria, and joy allowed at this time of year, after the cold winter months, when people celebrate the fecundity of the approaching spring.
The tradition continues today: from Domingo Gordo (Fat Sunday) to Shrove Tuesday, the village boys personify the mysterious characters and, full of energy believed to be transmitted by the mask, run around the village jumping and shouting. One of the main reasons for this activity is to find girls to dance with and “rattle” them. They have a great time, protected by their anonymity! The group also includes children dressed as caretos, known as facanitos, who copy and follow their elders, learning from them and ensuring the continuity of the Entrudo Chocalheiro (Rattling Carnival).
Among the most important aspects of the Carnival of Podence are the fictitious weddings on the Sunday, a cheerful event when the brides and grooms people have chosen have no opportunity to complain, and on Shrove Tuesday, when a parade through the village and the Queima do Entrudo (“burning the wicker man”) signal the end of the festival.
In 1985, the Podence Caretos got organized and turned the group into a cultural association whose main goal is to preserve this traditional event. As a symbol of Northeastern Trás-os-Montes culture, these masked performers have been invited to take part in various cultural and recreational events elsewhere.
To find out more about the group and history of this tradition, you can visit the Casa do Careto, a museum in Podence.