Christmas, being an extremely popular holiday worldwide, is very significant in Brazilian culture. While Brazil has its own way of celebrating the holiday, some may be surprised at just how universal some of their Christmas traditions are.
Full of traditions, imagery, and food both familiar and new, Brazilian Christmas is fascinating and joyful.
The Nativity is a vital part of the Christmas story. Brazilians know this and choose to honor the Nativity scene in a special way during the Christmas holiday. Called preseios, these scenes are created en masse in Brazilian cities at Christmastime.
Whether they are outside of churches, homes, or even simply in the middle of cities, presepios are extremely popular in Brazil during this time. A typical holiday tradition for Brazilian families includes visiting various presepios, noting the care and attention to detail put into each one.
Accompanying some of these Nativity scenes are Christmas plays that tell the tale of the Nativity. Translated to “The Shepherds”, the Brazilian tales tell the story of the Nativity as it is widely recognized in the Bible. However, the Brazilian play adds a small twist, including a woman or a shepherdess who attempts to steal the baby Jesus.
Christmas Trees Abound
As with many countries that take the time to celebrate Christmas, Christmas trees are very popular in Brazil. What’s more, these trees are decorated in an extremely familiar way.
Decked out in ornaments, lights, and garlands, Brazilian Christmas trees are just as familiar to viewers as any other iconic Christmas tree. As with many cities across the world, it is not uncommon for Brazilian cities to feature extremely large trees in the middle of a cosmopolitan area, making it a noteworthy attraction for all to see.
Because fir trees are in no way native to Brazil, and not very easily transported, many Brazilian families opt to decorate plastic trees.
Because Christmas is just as popular for commerce during this time, Brazilian employees are typically offered a Christmas bonus to help with their holiday shopping. Interestingly enough, this is seen as a great time for Brazil to boost its economy.
Therefore, the salaries of Brazilian employees are sometimes doubled during the month of December!
Brazil typically begins its Christmas celebrations on the night of Christmas Eve. It is traditional for families to gather that night and enjoy a large meal, which is typically served sometime around 10 at night.
Many of the foods served at this Christmas dinner are usual holiday fares, such as turkey or ham as well as fruits and salads.
Traditional rice is cooked during this time, which enjoys the added ingredients of raisins and flour. Borrowing from many cultures over the world, Brazilians also enjoy Italian panettone bread and German pudding during the holiday.
During this feast, families have a chance to enjoy traditional Christmas decor similar to that popularized worldwide. Christmas tablecloths are usually laid out during this feast, and families are usually surrounded by tinsel strung up throughout the home.
Brazilian Christmas at Midnight
While celebrating one of these traditions does not necessarily exclude the other, many families recognize midnight to be the true beginning of the official Christmas holiday.
Some more religious families may go to midnight mass, while others may stay home and begin their celebrations with their family at midnight after their Christmas Eve dinner.
Whether they are celebrating at home or at church, many Brazilian families take this time to dress well. Many women take their time doing their hair and makeup, while everyone wears their best clothes.
Misa de Gallo
Misa de Gallo, also known as the Mass of the Rooster, is a very important event during Brazilian Christmas. The Catholic tradition of midnight mass is not specific to Brazil and is in fact recognized all over the world. The Brazilian midnight mass adds a bit of excitement, as it is traditional for fireworks to be set off when the clock strikes midnight.
The Brazilian mass has earned its name due to the fact that it can sometimes last through the entire night, or until the rooster crows.
Resembling a New Year’s Eve midnight toast, Brazilians choose to celebrate with one another when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve. Officially Christmas Day, families typically toast one another in celebration.
Music and drinking are a big part of the festive celebration, giving everyone a chance to let loose, relax, and celebrate this joyous time of year with friends and family.
The same families may also choose to set off fireworks, regardless of whether they have attended midnight mass. It is then typical to begin opening presents once all the other festivities are out of the way.
While the tradition of Secret Santa is popular in some cultures, it is a staple of Brazilian Christmas. Known as Amigo Oculto, friends and family typically give one-another gifts anonymously.
Then, before the gift is given, the gift-giver has the opportunity to play a short game with the recipient as well as the rest of the family. The gift-giver takes this time to describe the person receiving the gift, making everyone attempt to guess who the gift is for. Once a correct guess has been made, the gift-giver reveals their recipient and hands over their gift.
This is seen as a great way to ensure everyone is included in the gift-giving festivities, as well as making Christmas more efficient for larger families.
These secret Santas often take on pretend names, or apelidos, in order to provide their recipient with small gifts over the course of the month of December.
Most of the time, the tradition of gift-giving is celebrated not with a small subsection of immediate family, but with extended and distant relations. Because of this, Amigo Oculto is truly the most efficient way of exchanging Christmas gifts.
However, while the Amigo Oculto tradition is perfect for adults and older kids, children’s’ presents are still known to be brought by Santa Claus.
Brazil’s imagery of Santa Claus fits the popular imagery we know and love around the world. Clothed in red and white robes, it would seem Santa Claus uses some of his North Pole magic to keep himself cool in the hot weather of Brazilian summer.
However, some tales are told among Brazilian children of a Papai Noel who makes a costume change into red silk when making his stop in the hot climate.
Some Brazilian children also choose to partake in a tradition that includes leaving a sock at their window, which Papai Noel is said to exchange for a gift.
Santa Claus may also be referred to as Bom Velhinho, or the “Good Old Man” in Brazil.
Christmas at the Beach
Interestingly enough, because Brazilian Christmas is celebrated in tandem with the rest of the word, Brazilians do not experience a snowy, white Christmas. Instead, being south of the equator, Brazilians get to celebrate a hot and summery Christmas.
Because of this, Christmas Day activities for Brazilians look a bit different than in the movies. Additionally, because Brazilians take care of many of their traditions overnight, families are essentially given a free day to spend with one another on the 25th.
Basking in the glory of summertime, many Brazilians choose to hit the beach on the 25th, enjoying the holiday and spending time with their friends and family.
Some also choose to use lunchtime on Christmas Day in order to visit with friends or relatives they may not have seen during Christmas Eve celebrations.
Popular in many countries, Brazilians also tend to recognize the Epiphany. Celebrated on January 6th, the Epiphany is recognized Biblically as the day the magi finished their journey to bring gifts to the baby Jesus.
This day is often revered as the true heart of the holiday, making it a sacred day among many.
Overall, Christmas is such a widespread holiday that many of its traditions have become global ones. Christmas in Brazil is just as easily recognizable as it is in many countries, with just a few unique traditions!