12 December 2011

Christmas in Brazil

No matter how long I live in Brazil I will never get used to Christmas in the summertime. I have such a hard time wrapping my head around it. How on earth can you dream of a white Christmas when the closest snow is nine flight hours away? How can you roast chestnuts by an open fire without the roaring fireplace? Sleigh bells ring? Really? What's a sleigh? And how can all the Santas put on those heavy wool outfits, with the beards and the hats and the heavy bags of presents, and go about their business as if the temperature/humidity index isn't 104 F (40 C)?

But as summer approaches, so does Christmas, so I'd just better get with the program. Christmas is still essentially Christmas, no matter what the thermometer says. One thing, though, the preparations start a little earlier here than I'm used to. There being no Thanksgiving in Brazil, Christmas doesn't have to wait its turn before hanging its decorations. Nativity scenes, Santas, reindeer and candy canes have been sprouting up in the public spaces since the start of November. The print ads and TV commercials for special Christmas travel packages have been going full blast for months now. The local supermarkets are quite suddenly chock-a-block with dried fruits and panettones. And there's certainly the same sense of frenzied, panicked Christmas shopping — Will I buy everything in time? — that one gets anywhere in the world.

No chimneys here. Santa arrives via kitesurf.
Of the three big holidays looming on the horizon, in Brazil Christmas is always spent with family. (New Year's Eve can be spent either with friends or with that one special person, and Carnaval — well, for Carnaval you're on your own.) Over the years, Mark and I have felt privileged to be included in several Christmas Eve family dinners, called ceias. A Christmas ceia is generally served at midnight (or a little earlier, if you've invited some foreigners...) unless the family is attending the missa do galo, or the midnight "rooster's" mass, called that because the rooster's crowing heralds the coming of Christmas Day. If the family goes to the missa do galo, then the ceia is served around 1:00 am.  Children get served first so that they can go to bed. Depending on the family's customs, gifts are handed out either after the ceia or after mass. Some families also attend late afternoon mass on Christmas Day, so that they can spend Christmas morning at the beach. 

The Christmas ceia is plentiful and varied, and looks an awful lot like our Thanksgiving. They serve turkey, chicken, ham and/or pork loin, but they also serve something called a chester. I'm really not sure what a chester is, but I've eaten it, I've served it, and it's tasty. It's not like the American turducken, but it's in that when-it-was-alive-it-sure-didn't-look-like-this category. There are also varieties of vegetables, colored rice and lots of salads. Dried fruit & nuts show up before and during the meal, and again in desserts. By the way, a meal of this size, served so late, is unusual in the hot summer, but hey — it's Christmas. 

To my slight disappointment, there's absolutely no tradition of Christmas songs in Brazil. The few songs that play at this time of year in the stores and restaurants are imported. Every year I find myself longing to join a group of carollers and stroll around singing in perfect, tight harmony. I don't know why, because I've only done it once in my life — in Hoboken, New Jersey, and it wasn't easy singing with frozen lips — but I keep getting the urge anyway. I can sense it coming on this year, too. Any takers?


  1. It must be as weird to you as it was to us spending Birthdays (mine an Paulo's) and Christmas in winter clothes. When could I give Paulo a nice GAP winter coat for his birthday? Or could I get a felt beret, also GAP, for mine? Only when we spent some wonderful time living in the northern hemisphere.

    Barbara, I really enjoy reading your posts :)

  2. A chester is a type of genetically selected 'super-chicken.' For more information, see:


    And by the way, Barbara, thank you so much for posting this Blog. I spent a delightful afternoon reading it. I will certainly be coming back for more.