Révellion or Brazilian New Year’s Eve

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Just a short article today, as I’m still a bit jet-lagged from my honeymoon.

New Year’s in Brazil is very different, and yet very similar to that in Canada.  I do find the festivities are a little bigger in Brazil – in fact, when I returned to Brazil for my (religious) wedding in February, I already saw advertisements to reserve a table for Réveillion (New Year’s Eve) for this coming December 31st.   While New Year’s has taken on the name Réveillion, it doesn’t have the large dinner that is associated with it in some parts of Canada.

I get the impression from stories of friends that most places where it is warm they ring in the New Year on the beach, and Brazil is no exception.   Entire families go out on New Year’s, and the party does not stop until late into the night/morning.   Roads near the coast tend to be shut down, not by law, but by the giant crowds that flock to the beach.  Even people from the interior tend to travel to the coastal cities for celebrations, and the hotels are massively expensive as a result.  Book early if you are going.

Along with Minha Sogra (my mother in law), we stayed out until at least 5:00 a.m., and we were still some of the first to head home – only one couple (who have young children) that we were out with went home before us.    There was a lot of music, dancing, and drinking throughout the night – remember, in Brazil you can drink on the street.  I heard on the news later that week some people had spent three nights in the beach partying, although at that point I think it’s more accurately just called camping.

Christmas is still the major holiday, but, like here, New Year’s is more for friends – so that’s why the festivities can almost seem larger.  While Minha Sogra was with us, we spent the entire night with Minha Namorada’s best friend and her family – it was especially nice because she and her boyfriend got engaged that night.

There are still lots of religious activities going on for New Year’s Eve, you may find an outdoor religious service or two, and I definitely saw some religious groups doing festivities, but that’s always common in Brazil – religion is a large part of everyday life.

Two days later, Meu Sogro (my father in law) was so excited to take us to visit his small town that he started calling us at 2:30 a.m. to see if we were awake and ready to go yet – that led to a very difficult morning as you can imagine, but is a story for another day.

Children’s Day

This weekend, as my Canadian Readers know, we celebrated Thanksgiving. A day to spend with friends or family, and remember what we are all thankful for. While this is not exclusively a Canadian/American holiday, it is not celebrated in most places around the world. And, especially given its association with the fall harvest, which isn’t the same “end of season” event in the land of eternal summer, it makes sense it is not celebrated in Brazil (although oddly, it is celebrated in some hot climates).

Even so, this weekend was a holiday weekend in Brazil – Children’s Day.

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Children’s Day, which actually exists around the world, is a fairly significant holiday in Brazil (unlike Canada), and by tradition is a gift-giving holiday, where parents buy toys for their children. Of greater significance, is that the more well-off people tend to buy gifts for children of the poor, and even host parties so that the kids can enjoy the day just like everyone else. Personally, I think sharing like this is a better way of showing thanks than most Canadian/American traditions. Donating money, and, more importantly, time gives back to the community, and definitely gives each person more perspective on what things for which we ought to be thankful.

Children’s Day falls on October 12th. And while most people remember it as Children’s day, like most Brazilian Holidays, it actually is associated with a religious holiday. It is Our Lady of Aparecida’s Day, being a Christian Feast Day in honour of the Patron Saint of Brazil, the Virgin Mary. Most people probably associate it with Children’s Day, simply because that’s how it was first introduced to them as a child – and any holiday that you get gifts as a child is a memorable one.

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The small terracotta Virgin Mary, representing Our Lady of Aparecida, to which many miracles have been attributed 

There are some less than proper motivations for the holiday as well, the history of the day actually comes from a marketing campaign to increase sales for toy companies, in part by Johnson & Johnson, in the 1960s. The day was initially celebrated in March (and was similar to Canada in that there was very little acknowledgement), but the marketing campaign was extremely successful and created the now well-known celebration. But this is true of many holidays, Santa Clause is significantly associated with Coca Cola, but Christmas is still special. In fact, some might argue the commercialization of Santa has helped spread the Christmas Spirit.

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It is an urban legend that Santa’s depiction comes from Coca-Cola because of very successful 1930s commercials.  Santa had already been depicted as such, and had even sold other soft drinks like Whit Rock Beverages

São João – the unknown Brazilian Festival

Brazil is well known in Canada (and North America generally) for Carnival, even to the point that some stereotypes of Brazil tend to focus on some traditional samba dance wear due to its association with some Carnival celebrations.

However, one of the other big Brazilian celebrations is nearly unknown outside of Brazil, that festival is called São João, also called Festas Juninas.

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Sao Joao is a festival mainly held in the North and Northeast, but can also be found in the interior of São Paulo and other large urban centers. It started as a tradition imported from Portugal associated with St. John the Baptist, whose has a Feast day in June, leading to celebrations throughout the month, and sometimes even into July.

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One major part of the tradition is the lighting of a fogueira (a bonfire) on Saint John’s Eve (June 23rd), which is symbolic of the fire lit to tell Mary of the birth of St. John.

This holiday has now become a celebration of the rural life of farmers (called Caipira – this word has similar associations to the redneck or yokel though, so they can use it to refer to themselves, you cannot), with boys dressing up in straw hats and plaid shirts, while girls dress in country dresses and pigtails.

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They dance in “Quadrilhas” (think square dances – even the music is surprisingly similar), and the festival celebrates the fertility of the land by hosting a mock wedding as the centre of the Quadrilhas.

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A mock wedding from São João, called a casamento matuto

Common midway games from North America are also found at the festivals, including mock “fishing” for prizes, ring/dart toss, and three-legged races. One-legged races are also popular stemming from their association with the Brazilian folklore surrounding Saci – a Brazilian prankster genie, who grants wishes to those who trap him or manage to steal his cap.

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Saci by André Koehne [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D
Essentially, when trying to imagine Sao Joao, think of the Calgary Stampede, with a less rodeo, and a lot more emphasis on country dancing, and you’ll get the gist of it.