Can Santa’s Reindeers Survive Brazil’s Hot Christmas?

     Can Santa's Reindeers 
Survive Brazil's Hot Christmas?

    Even in the scorching
    heat of Rio’s summer, Santa makes his
    appearance to bring gifts to children who anticipate his arrival
    as eagerly as others anywhere else in the world. However, the
    traditional emphasis is still on the birth of the Christ child and the
    gathering of family. Things have begun to change though.
    By Jennifer

    What other types of holidays do Cariocas celebrate besides Carnaval?

    There are many more government,
    religious, and popular holidays commemorated in Brazil than in the United
    States. Rio’s residents love parties and the opportunity to socialize. They
    also still regard themselves as a Catholic country, although few people actually
    practice the religion.

    Perhaps Americans can
    most relate to the `popular’ holidays. Among them is the Brazilian equivalent
    of Valentine’s Day, which is called Dia dos Namorados (Day of the Lovers).
    It is celebrated on June 12th instead of February 14th.

    It is also interesting
    to note that Brazilians recognize some of the United States’ holidays such
    as Halloween, which they call Dia das Bruxas (Day of the Witches), and celebrate
    their own versions of them.

    Other American holidays,
    such as Thanksgiving (Dia de Ação de Graças), are not
    observed, though Cariocas are familiar with them and have given them
    names in Portuguese.

    What are some of the
    government holidays and how are they celebrated?

    Brazilian Independence
    Day, September 7, is the most distinguished national holiday. It is commemorated
    by a week long celebration which features parades, patriotic music, and sporting

    The festivities commence
    on August 31st and culminate on the actual day of the 7th.
    Brazil’s national anthem, "Hino Nacional Brasileiro" (Brazilian
    National Hymn) is played throughout the city. The country’s colors of green
    and yellow are displayed from windows and street fixtures.

    Other national holidays
    include Discovery Day (Dia do Descobrimento) on April 22nd and
    Flag Day (Dia da Bandeira) on November 19th. Though not observed
    by the general public, schools and military groups put on ceremonies. Business
    and government offices are closed.

    Labor Day, on May 1st,
    is a day to honor blue collar and union workers. It is largely ignored by
    other types of employees.

    Does Rio de Janeiro
    have its own special holidays?

    January 20th,
    the date of de Sá’s victorious attack on the French, is hallowed as
    a tribute to Rio’s patron saint, São Sebastião (Saint Sebastian).
    Street festivals and church masses feature decorations colored the saint’s
    votive shade of red.

    The main event is a procession
    which carries the statue of São Sebastião from the church which
    bears his name in Barra da Tijuca crosstown to the Metropolitan Cathedral.
    There, it is blessed at a mass conducted by the city’s archbishop.

    Meanwhile, in the courtyards
    of African Spiritual temples, drums beat in time to the chants and dances
    honoring Oxossi, voodoo king of the jungle.

    On March 1st,
    Cariocas commemorate their city hood on the anniversary of Estácio
    de Sá’s arrival. The date is honored with a mass held at San Sebastian
    Church in the central district. The mayor then cuts a huge birthday
    cake and hands the pieces out to the guests.

    Are there religious
    holidays other than those honoring Rio?

    Being a predominately
    Catholic country, Easter continues to be the holiday of the greatest importance
    and observation. Many other festivals revolve around saints of the church.

    Among the most
    popular are those dedicated to São João (Saint John) and several
    of the other Catholic saints. These all take place in June.

    This has caused the series
    of celebrations to be known as the Festas Juninas (June Festivals).
    They are marked by parties which take place among relatives and friends.

    Other religious holidays
    occur throughout the year. The church puts on a special mass for each.
    Families may use the occasion for hosting a social gathering.

    Is the Easter Bunny
    welcome in Rio?

    The Easter Bunny does
    drop off his chocolate candy bunnies and eggs at the homes of Carioca children.
    However, the traditional emphasis remains upon the death and resurrection
    of Christ. The observance commences with Palm Sunday and continues through
    Easter day.

    Various churches host
    a variety of practices. These include religious processions, hangings of effigies
    of Judas on Good Friday, and meatless Saturday night dinners. Rio families
    attend mass or religious services on Easter morning. They then spend the rest
    of the day together.

    Does Santa still come
    when it’s ninety degrees?

    Yes, even in the scorching
    heat of Rio’s summer, Santa makes his appearance to bring gifts to children
    who anticipate his arrival as eagerly as others anywhere else in the world.
    However, the traditional emphasis is still on the birth of the Christ child
    and the gathering of family. It is only in recent years that this has slowly
    begun to change.

    How long is the Carioca
    Christmas season?

    The season begins in mid
    December in anticipation of the Christ child. It continues on through January
    6th, the day which marks the visit of the Magi.

    How is it celebrated?

    Nativity scenes (presépios)
    are put up in public places and private homes. In addition to, or where nativity
    scenes are absent, trees, commonly made from synthetic materials, are used
    to decorate.

    This is not looked upon
    as `cheap’, since the evergreens used in homes in the United States are not
    naturally available to Rio’s residents, nor would they survive for long in
    summer temperatures.

    Natal (Christmas) is a
    family holiday which is celebrated both at church and within the home. On
    Véspera de Natal (Christmas Eve) families attend midnight mass together.
    Traditionally, they then return home, eat a poultry dinner, and follow up
    by opening gifts. Christmas Day is usually spent with the family. Friends
    are welcome to drop by.

    Why do some Rio residents
    consider New Year’s Eve a religious holiday?

    When the Portuguese captured
    and imported African people to be used as slaves, many of their religious
    beliefs and rituals found their way into the Brazilian secular culture.

    One of these ceremonies
    is the festival of Iemanjá, goddess of the sea, which is held on New
    Year’s Eve (Révéillon). Millions of people from all religions
    dress in white and gather on Rio’s beaches holding boats made from paper containing
    a candle.

    Around 10pm, they begin
    to decorate. Candles, flowers and lace tablecloths covered with offerings
    of necklaces, hair accessories, and make-up are spread on the sand.

    At midnight, the boats
    are launched, with the candle lit, in hope that the tiny ships will make their
    way across the waves to Iemanjá. People believe that when a boat reaches
    her, she will grant the wish represented by the candle.

    Besides the ceremony dedicated
    to the African goddess, people play samba and dance in the streets. Fireworks
    and sirens go off at midnight as the paper boats are being launched from the
    shore. Bells ring and drums bang announcing their dispatch.

    Some people jump over
    seven waves, or stuff three pomegranate seeds in their pockets, in order to
    bring good luck. The party continues both on the beach, and in the streets,
    until the celebrants welcome the rising of the sun. Its growing light sends
    them slipping away to sleep.

    Is there a special
    holiday for children as well as those for their parents?

    Brazilians also grace
    mothers and fathers with a special day in their honor. But, unlike the United
    States, there is also a holiday set aside for children. Its original name
    was Cosme e Damião, but it is now more commonly called Dia das Crianças
    (Children’s Day) and occurs during September or October.

    Parents and relatives
    give gifts and candy to children within their own families and to those of
    friends and acquaintances. Charitable organizations distribute treats
    to the children whose families do not have enough money for their own.

    Do Cariocas
    have birthday parties?

    Cariocas are just
    as big on celebrating birthdays as Americans are. Children’s birthdays feature
    a cake with candles, soft drinks, toys, party-blowers, and paper decorations
    which match the chosen theme of the party.

    One room is set up for
    the party. A theme tablecloth covers the one table. Other theme decorations
    are placed on top of the table and hung on the walls. The room looks like
    one has stepped into a fantasy world.

    Finger snack type foods
    and sweets are set out on the table so that the company can help themselves.
    If the family is wealthy, the maid may also circulate about the room with
    the food on a tray.

    The focus of the child’s
    party is on the guests and the cake rather than entertainment or activity.
    Family members, neighbors, and friends from the child’s school are all invited.
    They socialize and enjoy each other’s company by dancing, singing, and playing

    When the cake is brought
    out, a special Portuguese verse is sung to the same tune as the American `Happy
    Birthday’ while everyone claps their hands. Next, candles are blown out, and
    the cake is cut.

    Afterwards, everyone hugs
    the birthday child and crowds around to watch him or her open their gifts.
    Then the family puts the presents together in one location, usually the child’s
    room, where the guests will go to view them again prior to leaving.

    On her fifteenth birthday,
    a girl celebrates her `coming of age’. This is also the occasion when an upper
    or middle class girl makes her debut in society. A large celebration is held
    at a club, yard, or in another large space appropriate for holding social

    Around or about midnight,
    the birthday girl dances with her father and is then turned over to her date.
    While dancing together, they are accompanied by fifteen other couples comprised
    of friends or relatives. If they are following the old tradition, the girls
    dress in white and hold candles.

    There are also parties
    on adults’ birthdays. Gifts are given and opened. Everyone helps themselves
    to large servings of home-cooked food. The cake may be decorated without the
    candles. Cutting the cake is the climax of the party. It may then be eaten
    or shared with family and friends later.

    The text
    above was excerpted from Rio de Janeiro: The City, the
    Life, and the Kids, a work aimed at grades 5 through high
    school level. The author, Jennifer Grant, is currently seeking
    a publisher for this book. Comments and contacts in English
    and Portuguese are welcome at
    Please reference the book title or Brazzil in subject

    Grant wishes to
    thank Jazon da Silva Santos for his comments and editing work
    on some of the chapters contained in the book. She has authored
    previous articles in Brazzil magazine, as well as an
    article on the children in the favelas for Faces
    Magazine, which is used in United States schools.

    Her interests include
    promoting awareness of the needs of the favelados and the organizations
    and individuals which are willing to help them through both the written
    word and by making presentations at churches and schools.

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