By Nicole Froio, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – New Year’s Eve is a time of traditions all around the world, and in Rio de Janeiro, where different cultures and nationalities have been combined for centuries, traditions are abound throughout the evening. The mix features African rituals, Brazilian superstitions and even a French name: Reveillon!
To help travelers get involved, here is a quick guide to some rituals and superstitions Brazilians practice this time of year.
The most visible tradition on New Year’s Eve is to wear an outfit that is completely white – this symbolizes peace and renewal, a certain kind of hope that the New Year will be better than the one that has just passed.
Spending the evening on Copacabana Beach watching the fireworks, or anywhere by the sea, means another of the more popular Brazilian traditions is easy to accomplish.
Right after the clock strikes midnight, and as soon as the fireworks show is over, Brazilians run to where the sea meets the sand and skip seven waves so that Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea, will open up paths in their life. The trick here is to be careful and not to turn away from the ocean after the skipping, otherwise the goddess will be angry. With each skip, one wish must be made.
Another tradition on the beach is to light candles by the water and throw flowers in the ocean to bring good luck and an enlightened New Year. These traditions come from the African-Brazilian religion called Candomblé, that originated in Bahia with the slaves that were brought from Africa in the 1500s.
The religion is largely about worshiping the sea and Iemanjá. Flowers are sold by street vendors in Copacabana, making it easy for Brazilians and others to pay homage to the goddess of the seas.
People who don’t enjoy fireworks and the crowded beach – or any of the many large parties held around the city – usually settle for a quieter night at home with a traditional meal at midnight. Although the setting is more personal, there are also many rituals to observe.
Starting with the meal itself, Brazilians avoid eating any poultry in the first minutes of 2013, most families eat pork instead. This stems from a belief that because birds scratch the earth backwards, eating them will mean moving backwards in life, not forward.
Some rituals are specific to the person’s needs. If they need money, all they have to do is jump on one foot – always their right one – so that they start off the year with money in their pocket. If afflicted by problems in the love department, greeting a member of the opposite sex right after midnight promises to bring luck in dating.
If 2012 wasn’t the best year, jumping three times holding a champagne glass then throwing the contents over the shoulder will make sure the bad year is erased, with new possibilities for 2013. This is not recommended for inside celebrations unless you know the host well.
American expatriate in Rio and owner of Gringo Café Sam Flowers told Rio Times he had heard of many traditions over the years, but that he only followed a few of them so far. “I’ve worn all white to go out and celebrate and I did jump seven little waves one year,” he said.
“I think it’s great that the New Year in Brazil has a spiritual side and meaning – much more so than in American culture. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate that the significance of the New Year to Brazilians is similar to the significance of Christmas to Americans. Here the New Year seems to be more important or the bigger focus than Christmas.”
Superstitions and traditions aside, everyone wants to start the year positively, and even if these are scientifically dubious, they do bring up a positive attitude and hope that 2013 will be a good year for all of us.