Brazil, Christmas in

Brazil, Christmas in

Due to Brazil's location in the Southern Hemisphere, its people celebrate a summertime, rather than a wintertime, Christmas (see also Winter Solstice). The Brazilian Christmas season lasts from midDecember to January 6. Contemporary Brazilian Christmas customs reflect the influence of European and North American Christmas traditions.

Papai Noel, the Three Kings, and Gifts

Brazilians inherited the Latin Christmas tradition of distributing presents to children on Three Kings Day, or Epiphany. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, Santa Claus became increasingly popular in Brazil. Nowadays, children may receive presents from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, as well as additional treats from the Three Kings, or Magi, on Epiphany. Children from poor families may receive clothes and shoes as Christmas presents, whereas children from richer families may receive toys and other less essential items. Adult family members and friends also exchange Christmas gifts. On the eve of Epiphany children leave their shoes beside the window or outside the front door. In the morning they find them filled with candy.

In spite of the summer heat Santa Claus, or Papai Noel as he called in Brazilian Portuguese, visits Brazil in his red and white fur-trimmed suit and hat, black boots, and long, white beard. The Brazilians have improvised somewhat on the Santa Claus myth. For example, Santa enters and leaves homes by the front door rather than the chimney. This makes sense to Brazilians since few homes in that tropical country have fireplaces and chimneys. Moreover, Papai Noel travels to Brazil in a helicopter rather than a sled drawn by flying reindeer. His official arrival in Brazil takes place in mid-December when he touches down in Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã stadium amidst a roaring crowd. These "Santa Claus arrival" events may be staged in other large cities as well. Brazilian children, like their American counterparts, hope to spot Papai Noel at one of their town's busy shopping centers in the days before Christmas.

Visits and Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner provides a very special occasion for families and friends to visit. Brazilians eat Christmas dinner late in the evening on Christmas Eve. The meal often features roast turkey with farofa stuffing, which is made out of toasted manioc flour, onions, garlic, turkey livers and gizzards, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and bacon. Other popular Christmas dishes include dried cod, an assortment of fruit, and a dessert called rabanada, which resembles French toast. Champagne, wine, and fruit punch often accompany the meal. Most families dine around 10 or 11 p.m. Afterwards many attend the Missa do Galo, or Midnight Mass (see also Misa de Gallo). These services may be held in Roman Catholic churches or on outdoor stages set up for the occasion. In recent years some people have begun to stay home to watch the television broadcast of the pope's celebration of Midnight Mass in Rome.

Christmas Trees and Nativity Scenes

Many Brazilians decorate their homes with a Christmas tree. In southern Brazil parents often take on the job of decorating the tree themselves. On Christmas Eve they lock themselves in the parlor until the tree has been studded with glowing candles and garlanded with ornaments, such as metallic balls, figurines, and poinsettia blossoms. The magical sight of the decorated tree delights the children when they are finally allowed to enter the room. In spite of the popularity of the Christmas tree, the Nativity scene remains the focus of home decoration and celebration in most of Brazil. Nativity scenes, or presépios, also appear in churches and town squares. Children usually participate in setting up the Nativity scene, adding toys, fruit, or foliage to the family's collection of figurines. In the south families may wait until the day before Christmas to set up the Nativity scene. In other areas they may begin constructing the presépio in mid-December.

Cards, Charity, Plays

Brazilians have adopted the custom of sending Christmas greetings in the form of Christmas cards. Until recently, many of these cards reproduced the winter scenes commonly found on European and North American Christmas cards. Now Brazilians may opt for cards depicting the sunny scenes more typical of December weather in Brazil. In Brazil Christmas is also a time for charitable giving. Churches hold many fund-raising events during the Christmas season. They usually donate the proceeds to poor families who need financial assistance in order to celebrate Christmas. Another Brazilian custom calls for the presentation of Nativity plays during the season. Most of these plays treat religious themes. Folk plays treating rural life and lore may also be presented during this time. These folk plays often include songs and dances. The most popular of these is called Bumba-meu-Boi, or "Beating My Ox." The story revolves around a bull that is killed and then brought back to life.

Further Reading

Brazil. Danbury, Conn.: Grolier Educational, 1997. Christmas in Brazil. Chicago: World Book, 1991. Milne, Jean. Fiesta Time in Latin America. Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1965. Wakefield, Charito Calvachi. Navidad Latinoamericana, Latin AmericanChristmas. Lancaster, Pa.: Latin American Creations Publishing, 1997.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003