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By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Celebrations of Christmas in Brazil are similar to many held around the world with the main focus points on family, gift-giving, religious observances, togetherness, and holiday meals. Traditionally most Brazilians celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, December 24th. Most businesses close early, then at home, gifts are exchanged and a Christmas meal is traditionally served that night.

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A vendor selling balls while dressed as Santa Claus on a beach in Barra da Tijuca. Many in Rio de Janeiro head to the beach on Christmas Day, photo by Edmilson Oliveira da Silva/Flickr Creative Commons.

The dishes of the main traditional meal can vary slightly throughout Brazil due to the influence of groups of immigrants that settled in various regions of the country.

Most Christmas meals include rice, turkey and/or ham. Additionally, one main dish that is common in Rio de Janeiro and other coastal cities is bacalhau (salted cod), a tradition brought to the country by the Portuguese settlers.

Often fresh fruits, nuts, and salads are included in the meal. For dessert, options include panettone, a loaf of sweet bread traditional in Italy that was brought to the country by Italian immigrants, and rabanada.

Similar to French toast, rabanada is made from soaking slices of bread in eggs and then frying the slices and covering them with sugar and cinnamon. In southern regions of the country, German strudel may also be served.

The beginning of the Christmas season in Rio de Janeiro is typically marked by the lighting of the floating Christmas tree on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in the city’s Zona Sul (South Zone). This year after being repaired following snapping in half in late November before the scheduled lighting, the tree was officially lit on December 12th.

Many additional holiday themed events have taken place during the lead up to the holiday. Many clubs, venues and bars in the city will be open on Christmas night to help holiday celebrations continue, after many go to the beach during the day, a common traditional in the city.

For those in search of more traditional, religious, celebrations of the holiday both the Union Church of Rio de Janeiro located in Barra da Tijuca and at Christ Church in Botafogo, the only English speaking Anglican Church in the city will host events and provide services in English. The Union Church will host a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service from 7PM to 8PM on December 24th and Christ Church will host Holy Communion on Christmas Day at 10:30 AM.

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