Generally speaking, Christmas celebrations in Brazil are similar to their European and North American counterparts. The major distinction, however, is that on Christmas Eve at midnight, churches across the country hold Missa do Galo (Midnight Mass). After this, Brazilians gather for midnight family dinners during which gifts are exchanged.
Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the most popular destination to celebrate the holidays in style. Around December 1st, in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the world’s largest floating Christmas tree is set up. The moment the Christmas lights are ignited can only be described as magical, with fireworks, music and dance and thousands of cariocas (locals of Rio de Janeiro) and tourists celebrating together.
New Year’s Eve, or Reveillon, is one of the biggest events in Brazil, second only to Carnival. The largest and most popular venue is, of course, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach, which had 2.3 million people attend the 2013 New Year’s Eve festivities. Combining both solemn tradition with extravagant fireworks and parties, New Year’s Eve in Brazil will be something you can never forget nor replace. Transportation is strictly monitored during this time, and many of the roads in and out of Copacabana will be blocked from around late afternoon. Metro Rio will have a special schedule and urban buses will provide free access, so those will be your main methods of transport during the festivities.
During the daytime, you will find people gather at the beach to honor the Afro-Brazilian ocean goddess, lemanja, by throwing flowers and sending candles out to the ocean as offerings. The offerings are made in the hope that lemanja will grant their New Year’s wishes. If your offering returns to you it is a sign that she is not pleased and will not grant your wish, hence many Brazilians send out offerings in toy boats to better their chances. The actual reveillon celebrations begin as early as 6PM on the 31st, and often last until sunrise of the New Year. Official stages line the 4km stretch of beach between Leme and Copacabana fortress, with DJs and bands performing everything from Brazilian pop songs to live rock. At midnight there will be an incredible 20 minute display of fireworks, during which you’ll witness some more rituals unique to Brazil. Seven is the magic number, and many chew 7 pomegranate seeds at the stroke of midnight without swallowing them. When the fireworks are over, follow the crowd to the water and jump seven waves and make a wish for each jump. Make sure you don’t look back to the ocean as you leave, as this can anger lemanja!
Apart from the actual festivities taking place, there are other traditions to take note of. Remember to wear all white (a sign of peace and prosperity) if you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb. Brazilians also believe that what you eat on New Year will be a reflection of how the rest of the year will proceed, with certain foods granting more success. Eat lentils to increase your luck, pork to ensure you’ll always be well-fed. Stay away from turkey and crab! You should keep the champagne flowing through New Year’s Eve as well, as it is believed to keep you energized through the New Year.