Merry Christmas! Feliz Natal!
My friends at school invited me to be a part of their “secret santa” gift exchange. This is a tradition, also common in the United States, where a group of friends are randomly assigned a person to whom they give a gift. There is usually a minimum and maximum price for the gift you need to buy and the person you are assigned is kept a secret until it is time to present them with their present.
One person usually starts the gift exchange by explaining a few things about their secret friend, leaving the group to guess who the present is for. After receiving their present, the following person would explain about their secret friend and this would continue until everyone has received their gift.
Surely, Santa Claus doesn’t forget to visit Brazil. You will find some of the most beautiful Christmas decorations in the mall, with towering Christmas trees and of course, Santa Claus himself. He is available to take family pictures in most of the shopping malls throughout December. What is Christmas without a picture with Santa?
Maybe not an official tradition, but I figured I would throw this one in here anyway. For most Brazilians(as well as many other countries), Whatsapp is the prefered method of communication. Nothing like forwarding a good old electronically made Christmas card to all of your friends and family.
Popular decorations include stockings, lights (It is important to note that while Christmas lights are usually scene on buildings or in the center part of town, they are not as popular due to the high cost of electricity), and of course, a Christmas tree. Something I found different, and I am not sure if this applies for every Brazilian family, is that stuffing stockings with candies is not as big of a tradition or if at all.
With Catholicism being the largest religious domination in Brazil (country with the largest Catholic population in the world) and the true meaning of Christmas being the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, undoubtedly, many families attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Nativity scenes are also very popular.
After mass, my family met at my grandmother’s house for a dinner. Most of the Christmas festivity, in contrast to the United States, takes place the night of Christmas Eve into the next day. After conversing for a few hours and once it was officially Christmas Day, everyone went around the room wishing a Feliz Natal with the exchange of a hug and a kiss. Dinner was served at 12 AM and dessert shortly after. Some families eat dinner earlier. Around 2 AM, we took the presents from underneath the Christmas tree and exchanged gifts. The night ended around 3 AM, with everyone hugging and kissing good-bye and returning home.
As most of the celebrating is done the night of Christmas Eve into the following day, there is not a lot of activity on Christmas Day. Some families meet together to share a lunch.
My grandma had food set out food to snack on leading up to dinner… granola mix, dates and dried apricots, chocolate candies, grapes, and cheese. Wine and beer were also on the table, although I settled for coconut water and my host brother settled for Jesus (pink Brazilian soft drink exclusively popular in São Luís, the capital of Brazilian state Maranhão).
Among the more privileged class in Brazil, it is very normal for families to have maids or cooks in their houses. All of the food was already prepared and our drinks served without the hassle of having to clean up afterwards. Turkey, similar to Thanksgiving, is the most popular Christmas dish in Brazil. Dinner was served with two plates of turkey, a fresh salad with eggs and tomatoes, strogonoff, pasta with ham, white rice, farofa, and ham with pineapple.
Dessert included chocolate cake, chocolate carrot cake, tapioca ice cream, creme of saputi (fruit only found in Northeastern Brazil; meu amor. I may or may not have a slight obsession with saputi), rabanada (Brazilian french toast, only eaten on Christmas), and chocolate chip cookies (I baked these myself. Eating cookies and milk for Christmas is not a Brazilian tradition).
Brazilian Portuguese Vocabulary Terms to know
Merry Christmas – Feliz Natal
Happy New Year – Feliz Ano Novo
Christmas Eve – Véspera de Natal
Santa Claus – Papai Noel
Church – Igreja
Mass – Missa
Secret Santa – Amigo Secreto
Christmas Dinner – Ceia de Natal
Wine – Vinho
Coconut Water – Agua de Côco
Soda – Refrigerante
Beer – Cerveja
Turkey – Peru
Salad with Eggs and Tomatoes – Salada com Ovos e Tomates
Beef and Cream – Strogonoff
Pasta with Ham – Macarrão com presunto
Rice – Arroz
Flour Mixture – Farofa
Ham and Pineapple – Presunto com Abacaxi
Chocolate Cake – Bolo de Chocolate
Carrot Cake – Bolo de Cenoura
French Toast – Rabanada
Tapioca Ice Cream – Sorvete de Tapioca
Saputi Cream – Creme de Saputi
Cookies – Biscoitos
Feel free to share some of your Christmas traditions in the comments below!