Christmas in Brazil
Contributions by Danielle, Lucio, Marlene and Phillip – our friends from Brazil!
Christmas in Brazil is very meaningful. The Brazilian population is primarily
Christian, and more are Catholic than not. The way we commemorate Christmas is
not typically Brazilian in some ways. People trying understand how we
commemorate Christmas may find it very strange because we only have snow in a
very small part of Brassily. In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which is deep in the
southern part of our country, it snows – but not at Christmas time – only in July! Even
so, we sometimes represent falling snow with little pieces of cotton on pine trees. We
also have Santa Claus, but we call him Papai Noel (Father Noel). We say he lives in
Greenland, far from us. And poor Santa, he usually comes in silk clothing because
he would suffer so much from our summer heat in the heavy clothes worn in other
countries. It’s very warm here even in the winter.
Brazilians are a mix of people from many parts of the world, and as a former
Portuguese colony, we have some customs relating to Christmas which originate
from this heritage. One of them is to build wonderful “Christmas Scenes”. This
practice is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahia, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte,
Paraíba, Maranhão, Ceará, Pernambuco, Piauí and Alagoas). It’s traditionally
referred to as a Nativity Scene in other parts of the world. In Brazil, we call it
Presépio, which originates from a Hebrew origin of the word “presepium” that
means the bed of straw in which Jesus first slept after birth. The Presépio was
introduced in the 17th century, in the city of Olinda in the state of Pernambuco by a
Franciscan friar named Gaspar de Santo Agostinho. Nowadays presépios are built
in December and displayed in churches, houses and stores. In January, they are
We’ve also adopted from cultures melting into our own, many foods commonly
associated with Christmas: turkey, colored rice, grape fruits, apples and other
special dishes. We eat at midnight serving the children first because they must
quickly get to sleep if Papai Noel is to bring them gifts. Local charitable institutions
undertake great campaigns to gather donations from people who can afford to give,
and are willing to do so. But unhappily, far too many children in Brazil who pray for
Santa’s gifts will not receive any. Adults exchange presents and happy (merry)
Christmas is celebrated in my home of Rio de Janeiro It depends, of course, on how
much money a family has has. However, I can say that even poor find a way to have
a modest dinner on the 24th. They also find a way of exchanging gifts, even if they
are simple, especially for the children, assuming they aren’t street children without a
family. Papai Noel (Santa) comes during the night and brings gifts. But here it is hot,
very hot when he arrives. He comes appropriately dressed for the occasion with a
bag of gifts, boots etc.
I have a big extended family and we normally have a big dinner together. The
dinner takes place on December 24th and it starts around 9 PM. The “woman of the
house” of every participating household contributes a dish. So we usually have
around 10 hot dishes and a many salads, deserts etc. Dinner only ends very late. We
exchange gifts around midnight. Curiously, the main dishes are similar to the ones
in the US: ham, turkey, nuts, etc. A pretty heavy meal to be eaten in our summer
time! As the dinner is normally a party for every family, the adults drink wine and
there is always some achievement to be celebrated or someone to be remembered (a
dead or an absent person). So, we intermingle our happiness with a minute or two
If one is a devout Catholic, he or she goes to the mass at midnight on Christmas eve.
This mass is called “Missa do Galo” (A galo is a rooster). The mass has this name
because the rooster announces the coming day and the Missa do Galo finishes at 1
AM Christmas morning! On December 25th, Catholics go to church, but the masses
are mostly late afternoon, because people enjoy sleeping late after the dinner (Ceia de
Natal) or going to the beach. Of course it’s a holiday and, if you’re a public servant,
the days surrounding it are also holidays.
In Brazil we’ve been sing our own version of ” Jingle Bells” for many years. I’ve
never discovered who created it, but it has been recorded. We adults, when children,
accept such things without explanation Our version is sufficiently different from
the American version. It’s name is “Bell of Belém” (“Belem” is the same as
“Bethlehem”). But it is sung to the tune of “Jingle bells”. Here then, in Portuguese, is
Hoje a noite é bela,
juntos eu e ela
vamos à capela
felizes a rezar!
Ao soar o sino,
vem o Deus menino,
Toca o sino,
Sino de Belém!
para o nosso bem.
para o nosso bem.
Paz na terra!
Toca o sino
alegre a cantar
este nosso LAR
Hoje a noite é bela… etc.