These are three days of festivities and excess, with a great deal of food, anticipating the period of fasting, rigour and religious discipline of Lent that commences on the following Wednesday, and only ends at Easter.
Vestiges of this festivity dates back to antiquity, in manifestations of a religious character that marked the period of transition between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. They were rituals of fertility and the desire for abundance that it was hoped would be reaped in the new year about to begin.
During the same period, the Romans celebrated the Saturnalia, which expressed the same message of regeneration and balance of nature. Saturn was the Latin name for the Greek god, Chronos, who was considered to be one of the supreme rulers of the universe and protector of Sowers. He ruled the world, until he was removed from his throne by his son, Zeus (the Greek god Jupiter) and fled to Italy, taking with him the time of perfect happiness and peace which had distinguished his reign, known as the Golden Age. Major festivities were celebrated in his honour during the winter, known as Saturnals or Saturnalia. It was believed that in this manner, it would be possible to recover the golden age during the period of the solemn festivities. War could not be declared on these days, executions were postponed, slaves and masters ate at the same table, family members and friends mingled together and the spirit of equality between all men was exalted. These principles of freedom and equality also mark the period of carnival, which simulate a subversion of the established order, followed by restructuring of the social balance.
The Saturnalia festivities were also marked by moments of reconciliation with the dead and the spirits. For this purpose, the figure of death was personified with white costumes and masks, and a doll and other symbols of the evil spirit were burnt, in an act of purification and liberation from malevolent influences. In many places in Portugal, the carnival festivities still end with the burial of the "Entrudo", a final act of freedom and breaking of the rules prior to a return to order.