By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Although not as prevalent as it is in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas remains an important tradition for the Cariocas (Rio natives) and, despite a few differing customs, food and festivity are what lies at the heart and soul of this special day.
According to Brazilian tradition, celebrations officially begin on Christmas Eve with families very often gathering together to start the holiday. One fun option recommended in Rio on the day before Christmas is a visit to the giant Christmas tree on the Lagoa which is scheduled to be lit up by an especially magical firework display.
As far as Christmas Day is concerned, traditions in Rio are similar to much of those elsewhere; family and friends get together, eat, drink and exchange presents. Depending on how religious families are, attending a church service is sometimes an important activity before returning home for a special meal.
Brazilian Christmas dinner usually includes bacalhau (cod fish) and shredded chicken or a large ham served with rice and salad followed by fruit and ice cream for dessert. Perhaps the most unique, and coveted Christmas delight on the dinner table, is the rabanaba, a type of bread soaked, fried, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, similar to french toast.
As for drinks, the usual selection of red and white wine is supplied and many Brazilians will have a glass of champagne as a toast to Jesus’ birth.
After an early meal, it is customary for many households to distribute presents and then settle in front of the television to watch a Christmas message delivered by the Pope.
Carioca resident, Marco Aurelio especially enjoys the Christmas holidays proclaiming, “My favorite thing about Christmas is being together with my family, giving and receiving gifts. I look forward to eating bacalhau and then relaxing for the rest of the day.”
For the expatriates and travelers who may be at a loose end, there are various events taking place in Rio over the Christmas period which will allow them to honor their own special traditions.
The Christ Church in Botafogo, the only English speaking Anglican Church in Rio, will be holding two special services starting with a ‘Christingle’ service on Christmas Eve. A popular custom in the Church of England, worshipers will receive a Christingle, made from an orange holding a lit candle and pierced with cocktail sticks covered with dried fruit, on entering the Church.
On Christmas Day, Christ Church will have a 10:30AM Communion Service, led by retired Bishop Edmund Sherrill, a long-term resident of Rio de Janeiro. The service will feature traditional Christmas carols and hymns.
For a truly indulgent Christmas feast that involves no preparation or cleaning up, head to legendary Brazilian restaurant Porcão at 8PM on Christmas Eve. There are three located in the City at Barra, Ipanema and Flamengo, all serving a huge selection of cooked meats, accompaniments and wine.
Another option for those who don’t want to cook this Christmas, a traditional meal of roast turkey with all the trimmings will be served at the Gringo Cafe on Christmas Day. The American-owned restaurant will start serving at 5PM and, if last year’s popularity is anything to go on, it would be wise to make reservations soon.