Brazilians are a melting pot of various ethnic minorities, and as a former Portuguese colony, they share many of this European country’s Christmas traditions. In fact, many of their customs also have a lot in common with those of Spain.
Brazilian families set up their nativity scenes and decorate their Christmas tree, ready for Father Christmas (who they refer to as Papai Noel) to call on Christmas Eve, bringing gifts for children, just as in many other countries around the world. The Christmas dinner menu traditionally includes turkey, ham, coloured rice and countless vegetables and exotic fruits. Carols are also part of the celebrations at this very special time of year. On Christmas Eve families attend Midnight Mass (Misa do Galo) and also attend church on Christmas Day, although in Brazil the service is normally held late in the afternoon, after a much-needed nap or spending the day on the beach!
But when it comes to celebrating, the Brazilians really let their hair down on New Year’s Eve. The fabulous night time firework display held on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on 31st December is famed throughout the world; an authentic spectacle that lights up the sky for 15 minutes in a non-stop explosion of colour. It is accompanied by live music on the beach and all the fascinating mysticism of the Iemanjá Festival, when flowers and other offerings are given to Iemanjá (also known as Janaína), the most important female orixá or deity, mother of Xangó, Iansã and Oxóssi and considered the queen of the waters and siren of the sea.
Copacabana’s wide stretch of sand is completely covered with a heaving mass of revellers, musical groups and those practising candomblé rituals. The sea is dotted with lights, some from the motorboats, yachts and other vessels, and others from the powerful strategically-positioned spotlights. People of all ages, social classes, religions and cultures flock here to admire the spectacular fireworks that explode in a myriad of shapes and colours, sending out a message of optimism and hope for better days.
This celebration is also repeated on many other beaches around Brazil, including those in Salvador da Bahia.
One of the more unusual celebrations during the festive season is the Saint Silvester Race, traditionally held on the last day of the year in which around 10,000 runners cover a distance of no less than 15 kilometres.
Brazilians also have a number of surprising superstitions they follow at New Year, such as jumping up and down three times with a glass of champagne in their hand, taking care not to spill a drop, before tossing the glass over their shoulder; another is to step up onto a bench, chair or stool with their right foot, as if they were moving up a rung on the ladder of life; they also take care not to put their clothes away inside out; wash the thresholds of their doors with sea salt and water and sprinkle holy water in every corner of their home; scatter yellow flowers around their bedrooms; and if the first visitor to the home on New Year’s Day is a man, he’ll bring happiness that will last all year long.
As you can see, a real mix of religions, rituals and customs that make a Christmas trip to Brazil a truly unique experience. Are you game?
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