Santa is Papai Noel
Each year Santa Claus (Papai Noel) arrives in Rio at the beginning of December. This event opens the Christmas Season. Papai Noel arrives by helicopter at Maracana Soccer Stadium – one of the largest soccer stadiums in the world. It’s a big party, singers, dancers and local authorities join the event to welcome Christmas and Papai Noel.
Families decorate their houses with Christmas trees. Any kind of tree will do — pine trees, palm trees etc. Sometimes people use dried branches and they add cotton balls, pretending it’s snow. Sometimes the branches are painted white for the same reason. Many people use homemade ornaments and also store bought ones.
The majority of the Brazilian population is Catholic, or Christian, therefore, the nativity scenes (Presepios) are a must! And they are usually very elaborate and detailed! All churches also display the presepios, and many times, children perform the First Christmas story at local schools and church halls.
Brazilians eat turkey (chester), ham (presunto), colored rice, different nuts and lots of fruits for Christmas supper. Also traditional are bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod appetizers) rabanadas (similar to a french toast made with special dough), and panettone.
Most families celebrate Christmas Evening and Christmas Day. They pray, sing, eat and drink together. Friends and neighbors usually stop by or call to wish a Merry Christmas! As a rule, families open presents after midnight when Papai Noel delivers the presents. Other families wait until Christmas morning to sit around their tree, or the nativity set and open their gifts.
At midnight, on December 24th, the ones who do not go to the church for the Midnight Mass or “Missa do galo” (Rooster Mass), watch it on TV. My grandmother used to sit by the TV and watch the Mass celebrated by the Pope. Only after that, we sat and had supper.
My mother always decorated the table with beautiful flowers and fruit centerpieces. And we always had a candle light dinner on Christmas Eve.
The memories of Christmas at home will always live in my heart.