As in all Catholic countries, Christmas in Brazil is celebrated every year, but here it is an occasion with all the spirit of Christmas and all the spirit of Brazil. Imagine Father Christmas in Brazil or “Papai Noel” arriving by helicopter on the rooftop of a shopping center, Christmas gifts while sunbathing on the beach, Christmas carols mixed with samba rhythms, secret santa, panettone. It´s Christmas in Brazil!
Christmas, a tropical event in the land of Samba!
The lucky people who have chosen to spend the end of the year in Brazil have hit a double jackpot! First you will celebrate Christmas with a unique Brazilian twist, then the following week, you are sure to be caught up by the whirlwind that is New Year’s Eve! In both cases, the big difference is to enjoy a traditional winter festival whilst on a tropical adventure.
The majority of Brazilians are devout Catholics. Christmas in Brazil is therefore of particular importance, especially to these people who belong to the majority religion of the country. But, they are also great revelers! This celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus therefore takes on a festive dimension worthy of this energetic country.
Santa Claus in a helicopter?
Wrapped in his warm red coat with white fur, Santa Claus arrives at the supermarket on his sleigh … suspended from the skates of a helicopter, and distributes sweets and candy to the crowd of children beneath him. No, you are not dreaming in your Bermuda shorts and flip flops: you are enjoying Christmas in Brazil! The magic is the same as in Europe, the huge tree, reindeers, Rudolph. Santa Claus is well wrapped up and he has a big white beard. Little Brazilians imagine it like that, and that’s how it should appear – even if the poor man leaves a few liters of sweat in the fur of his stuffy coat!
As in the USA, shopping malls and other commercial spaces are adorned with festive decoration, but in Brazil, it is much more impressive. It is a real party in true Brazilian form, even the Christmas carols take on samba rhythms that don´t fail to get you moving!
Unlike New Year’s Eve, Christmas in Brazil is a family celebration which is prepared long in advance. This does not prevent one from celebrating with friends or colleagues however. One of the great Brazilian traditions is the “secret santa” ( amigo secreto ): at the office or with friends, lots are drawn to see who will be your secret friend. Then with the help of some clues, the other participants will guess who they are. Once discovered, they are entitled to a Christmas gift from you. Then, they need to guess who their secret friend is, and off we go! Brazilians love this game and it can last for hours.
Companies – as a norm – distribute “cestas de Natal” (Christmas baskets) to their employees. They mostly contain gifts in the form of sweets and food, which people will eat at home as a family. It is therefore very common in Brazil to see Brazilian workers on public transport carrying their nicely decorated little baskets home from the last day of work.
Bacalhau and panettone
In Brazil, if there is a party, there is usually a meal as well. We cook a lot for Christmas in Brazil, and for the whole family. The traditional turkey is accompanied by “farofa temperada” (a cassava semolina, fried in butter and mixed with raisins, bacon and olives). Some traditional dishes that you may be used to in the USA, are normally replaced on the Brazilian Christmas table by a selection of festive foods more adapted to the customs and the climate of the country. We have patties, different salads, shrimp soups, chicken, rice, sliced tomatoes and of course the famous “bacalhau” (cod) inherited from Portugal, served as patties or in a salad.
It is nevertheless necessary to keep a small space for dessert as the traditional, the essential… panettone arrives! Yes, this brioche filled with raisins, fruit and chocolate, so dear to our Italian friends crossed the Atlantic to sit on the tables of festive meals in Brazil. We enjoy it with the family and always offer some to any visitors.
Once the feasts are over, if you are inland, you attend theatrical performances of live nativity scenes in front of the churches, while waiting for midnight mass, even if the tradition tends to get lost for some. We will also follow the “Pastorinhas,” these groups of grim and disguised faithful who come to pay homage to the baby Jesus in the churches, all in a sound carnival atmosphere.
If you are by the sea, there is every chance that it will all end, as most things usually do on the Brazilian coast, on the beach with song and dance! Whatever happens, Brazilians take full advantage of this spirit of communion and have a lot of fun. Those who are smart are careful to keep some strength for the week after!