• Yoshika Lowe

Christmas in Brazil

A Brief History

The original inhabitants of Brazil came from three main migrant waves from East Asia. Unlike the indigenous people of Mesoamerica and the western Andes, these people did not keep written records of their history, nor did they build monuments. Therefore, archaeologists have little information about these people before the arrival of the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th century.

The Portuguese colonizers initially exploited the land for pau-brasil, a red wood used for making dye. At first they labored with the indigenous people, but as the wood was consumed, plantations began to be a better source of revenue. The Portuguese needed many more laborers, so they attempted to enslave the native people. However, the 'Indians' as they were referred to, could not withstand the long hours of toil and were ultimately decimated by European diseases. When Portuguese diplomat Pedro Álvares Cabral first arrived in Brazil in 1500, the indigenous population was estimated at 3 million. Today there are less than 200,000. The Portuguese then turned to the African slave trade to solve their labor shortage.

Catholicism was first introduced among the Native Brazilians by Jesuits missionaries and also observed by all the Portuguese first settlers. During the colonial period, there was no freedom of religion, all settlers and natives alike were required to practice Catholicism and to pay taxes to the church. In 1824, after Brazilian independence, freedom of religion was introduced in the first constitution. Today, Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world.

Christmas Today

As Brazil was a Portuguese colony, many of the traditions were influenced by Portugal. Nativity scenes, called Presépio, are a very popular part of church and home decorations. As Brazil is a predominantly Catholic country, midnight mass, or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Roster), is attended by most people. After mass there are often huge fireworks displays and electric light displays of Christmas trees. In fact, Brazil has the largest floating Christmas tree in the world.

Rio de Janeiro floating Christmas tree

Santa Claus is called Papai Noel & Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man). Children will leave a sock out for Papi, who will leave a present in exchange.

In Brazil, the main Christmas meal is served not at mid-day on December 25th as North America, but late at night on Christmas Eve, as in many parts of Europe. It is known in Portuguese as "ceia de Natal" (simply, Christmas supper). Among the traditional dishes are bacalhau, or salt cod, and tamales, or turkey. The turkey is usually roasted, but the North American accompaniments of stuffing, and mashed potatoes with gravy, are missing from the standard Brazilian buffet table. Owing to the great ethnic diversity of Brazil, the Christmas meal may consist of foods traditional to many different countries. Dessert at this Christmas supper differs from what North Americans and Northern Europeans are used to, as well. There is no pumpkin pie, and normally no Christmas pudding.The most traditional dessert is one of Portuguese origin called rabanada. The word rabanada means "gust of wind" or "a blow with the tail." Although the name might be unfamiliar, the dessert is certainly well-known to English speakers under a different name-- French Toast, and it is associated with a different time of day - breakfast.

For many Brazilians a Christmas supper without rabanada would seem as incomplete as Christmas dinner without pie.

Prayer Point

Pray for Brazil. Pray for the Spirit of God to transform lives within sprawling urban slums. Pray against crushing poverty. Of the 200 million people in the Brazil, 40 million Brazilians live below the poverty line. While nearly half the income of Brazil is in the hands of the richest 10% of Brazilians, the poorest 10% get less than 1%.

Pray against ignorance, hunger and need: In Rio de Janeiro, where "Christ the Redeemer" stands overlooking, 20-25% of the city's population lives in slums called favelas. Within these slums, hundreds of thousands of street children are trapped in drug addiction, prostitution, and violence, and many suffer from AIDS.

Pray for the indigenous people of Brazil: In the Brazilian rainforest, a human tragedy is well-hidden. It is the ever shrinking population of indigenous Amerindians, who in 1500 A.D. numbered over 3 million but today number less than 250,000.

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