By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Sandy beaches and caipirinhas may take the place of the snow and eggnog that those from the Northern Hemisphere are accustomed to during the holiday season, but getting together with family, eating meals and exchanging gifts are some of the traditions that are similar in Rio de Janeiro.
In Rio, the holiday season typically begins with the lighting of the Lagoa Christmas tree (Árvore de Natal). This year thousands were in attendance when the 85-meter-tall tree was lit on Saturday, November 29th.
Cycling through four scenes as part of this year’s theme, “Um Natal de Luz” (A Christmas Light), the tree floats around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas located in Rio’s Zona Sul (South Zone) throughout the season.
Elsewhere in the city, traditional decorations featuring Santas (Papai Noels), strings of festive lights and nativity scenes are displayed for the holidays.
One of the most popular seasonal exhibitions is the Festival de Presépios (Nativity Festival). Part of the bigger Natal Fest Brasil, the Festival de Presépios is in its sixth edition this year and features the largest display of full-size nativity scenes in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
This year the festival is taking place in the community of Duque de Caxias, in the Praça do Pacificador, located in Centro. It will be open to the public until Christmas Day, Thursdays through Sundays until 4PM. Entry is free. Also part of the Natal Fest Brasil is Vila do Papai Noel (Santa’s Village), the Festival de Noéis (Festival of Santas), celebrating all things Santa, and Sabor de Natal (Flavors of Christmas), which celebrates new and traditional foods of the season.
For foreign residents and visitors to Rio, many expatriate societies including the British and Commonwealth Society (BCS), the International Club of Rio (InC) and the American Society of Rio de Janeiro (AmSoc Rio) hold holiday events.
Additionally during the season, the Gringo Café in Ipanema, will offer seasonal dishes including special pies and cakes. The cafe will open during its regular hours, with the exception of Christmas Day, when it will be closed and on Christmas Eve when opening hours will be from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM.
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.
In Brazil, main dishes are bacalhau (salted cod) and a large ham or turkey, usually served with rice. Desserts often include panettone, a loaf of sweet bread made with various flavors, and rabanaba, a bread similar to french toast, which is soaked in eggs and milk, baked or fried and then sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
On Christmas Day and during the holiday season religious services in English will be held at 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. The Christ Church in addition to Family Communion Service on Christmas Day at 10:30 AM, will host a Holy Communion with Carols on Sunday, December 21st.