Brazilians love a good celebration – as we all know – and Natal is not an exception. There is a mix of African and European traditions that are part of Brazil’s Christmas season.
Natal became a national celebration in the seventeenth century. Something similar to a Christmas tent used to be put up; sweet and savoury things were prepared by cooks, and both slaves and landowners put up the presépio – nativity – with figures made with mud. Traditions brought from the Kingdom of Portugal and those of the natives came together.
Nowadays Presépios can be seen in churches, stores and homes throughout the country during the whole month of December.
Secret Santa (amigo secreto) is also a very common tradition in Brazil in the Christmas season. It’s done among friends and family members and they exchange correspondence using nicknames instead of their real names. On Christmas day they all gather and reveal who their secret Santa is and offer each other special presents.
Dinner is very much what you wouldn’t expect in a country during a scorching summer, but European traditions imported to Brazil have instilled the cooking of turkey and ham, which are accompanied by a variety of vegetables, rice and fresh fruit dishes. Panettone is part of the dessert, as well as a special sweet treat called Rabanadas, and fruit salad, all washed down with refreshing caipirinhas of course!
Devout Catholics usually attend a Midnight Service called Missa do Galo (Rooster Mass). Its name comes from the fact that the rooster announces the start of a day and the service finishes at 1am on Christmas day.
A major difference between the British tradition is that people celebrate on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. They get together for a big dinner with the whole family and friends. They stay up until midnight to open their presents, make a toast and celebrate. Small children most of the time fall asleep before then but some put up a good fight to make it till midnight.
Have you ever visited Brazil during the Christmas festivities? What did you think of the local traditions?