With a population of more than 200 million, Brazil is world's fifth-largest country and has a highly diverse population resulting from a historic blending of its indigenous people, European settlers and African slaves. Its beautiful landscapes and many cultural events make Brazil a memorable vacation destination, but check the State Department's travel advice before you go. Crime rates are very high in Brazil and you should remain vigilant against robbery, assault and other crimes.
Frommer's rates Rio's New Year celebrations "one of the most spectacular New Year's celebrations in the world." Around 2.5 million people, most wearing white, gather on Copacabana beach to mark the New Year with a huge party, involving live music, fireworks and religious ceremonies. Look out for the flowers cast into the waves by locals making an offering to Iemanja, the Queen of the Sea. At midnight a huge firework display lights the sky before the party continues into the night.
Brazil's best-known festival is probably carnival. It's celebrated across the nation and is linked to beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. The festival takes place over about five days, starting on the Friday before Ash Wednesday and ending on Ash Wednesday itself. The most famous carnival is that held in Rio, where dozens of samba schools parade through the streets accompanied by colorful floats and dancers as part of a competition to find the top school. Wherever you are in Brazil at carnival time, you're likely to encounter some sort of celebration; in the northeast, Olinda's carnival is famous for its parade of almost 500 large puppets.
Passion plays have a long tradition in Christianity and represent events in Jesus' life, particularly his crucifixion, death and resurrection. The passion play held in Nova Jerusalem, 118 miles from Recife on Brazil's northeast coast, is the country's largest and involves more than 500 actors. The huge theater takes up an area close to that of 12 football fields, with equally ambitious scenery representing locations around Jerusalem. The play is worth seeing in itself, but you can also experience the street fair outside. The Passion Play festival takes place each year in the week before Easter, with performances daily.
Bumba-Meu-Boi, which roughly translates as "hit my bull," is a festival with traditional roots and takes place in most areas of the country. Locals work throughout the year to create a bull from a wire frame covered in papier mache, which is then used as part of a folk dance. The dance tells the story of a bull which was killed and then brought back to life by traditional healers and music. Although there are smaller events earlier in the year, the main month for the festivities is June. In Sao Luis, where one of the largest Bumba-Meu-Boi festival is held, around 200 bulls and their groups converge on the Joao Paulo neighborhood.
*Culled from traveltips.usatoday.com.