Bright, tropical, and multicultural
Stop-and-go at Christmas in Brazil … This is not only caused by people travelling home over Christmas, but especially because people are stopping to admire the Christmas lights. This can even interfere with carefully timed bus schedules, Karin Zwar reports.
December is a very busy month. There is still a lot to be done before the year winds down. Schools and universities finish with their school year, companies are hustling to get their annual balance sheets done, and then there are still Christmas gifts waiting to be bought.
Christmas in Brazil is also demanding from the climatic aspect. It is summer in the southern hemisphere with temperatures in the range of 30 degrees Celsius and more. The climate in Brazil is tropical, and it is often humid.
Gifts before Christmas Eve
“Instead of using the time for inner reflection, all that most people worry about is the material aspect of things. Children often even receive their gifts before Christmas already; rarely on Christmas Eve. People completely forget why Christmas is observed in the first place: the birth of the Saviour!” Karin laments. She has been living in Curitiba, Paraná, in the south of the country for many years.
“I have always tried to celebrate Christmas the way I learned it from my parents. They emigrated from Germany to Brazil, which is why we cultivate many of the German customs: an Advent calendar, St. Nicholas Day on 6 December, an Advent wreath with four candles, Christmas carols, cookies, Christmas bread, and not to forget, the decorations,” Karin reports. She has two daughters.
Competition for the most beautiful house
People in Brazil not only decorate the insides of their houses, but also transform the outside at Christmas time. Nearly every year there is a special kind of competition in Curitiba: Who has the best decoration? Creativity, design, and the use of environmentally friendly materials are among the criteria for the competition.
Uncountable strings of coloured lights illuminate the houses inside and outside. People put up nativity scenes of all sorts and sizes, and there is always somebody who manages to come up with a new dazzling idea to outdo his neighbour. “It is really quite amazing to drive through the city at this time of year,” Karin says. “There is even a bus line that makes special trips to the main holiday attractions. The bus stops for a while so that people can admire the decorations.”
And there is something else that is just a little different from the way things are done elsewhere. “We put our Christmas tree up already at the beginning of December and decorate it. It gives the house that special Christmas feel. This is quite common here,” our sister-in-faith reports. When our children were small they were really disappointed that we only put our tree up on December 24th. Now the tree is up for the entire month.
A midnight feast
Brazilian families begin their Christmas Eve celebrations at midnight. This is when the families get together for their traditional Christmas dinner. “The table will have been festively decorated and there are usually two or three different dishes of meat, rice with raisins and nuts, many different kinds of salads, fruit, ice cream, all kinds of desserts, and much more …,” Karin explains. “I try to uphold the traditions I picked up from my parents. On Christmas Eve our whole family gathers around the table at eight o’clock in the evening for dinner. We have salads, bread, and baked meat—simple things, but very tasty and prepared with a big amount of love. For dessert we have ice cream, lots of fruit, or maybe stewed fruit. After dinner we all sit around the Christmas tree, pray together, sing or listen to Christmas carols, and then exchange gifts.”
Christmas trees that are stored away
Brazilians buy artificial Christmas trees. “First of all, it is not easy to find real Christmas trees here and secondly, fake trees are much more practical. All you have to do after Christmas is to disassemble it and store it,” Karin reports about her adopted home country.
But the tree is really not all that important. “For us as a New Apostolic family it has always been important to go to church on Christmas Day. The altar is always beautifully decorated, the choir sings Christmas carols, the children sing …,” Karin says enthusiastically. It shows that there is another side to Christmas, a quiet time, and a time to reflect on its true meaning.
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