By James Mills for MailOnline. Rio de Janeiro kicked off its annual carnival parades over the weekend in a swirl of glitter, sequins and spectacular outfits. Thousands flocked to see the parades and competitions for the five-day celebration to mark the start of lent. Members of multiple parades represent different parts of the annual extravaganza, while men and women partake in an array of fascinating dances and performances. The Rio Carnival typically starts a week before Ash Wednesday with parties beginning in December, despite being heavily influenced by European and African traditions today.