When most people think of Christmas, they picture cozy scenes of families gathered around a roaring fire or children bundled up to build a snowman. However, for countries in the southern hemisphere, the Christmas season is nothing like that. Below the equator, December 25th falls in the middle of summer!
However, that doesn’t stop Brazilians from making the season as festive as possible. Because much of the country’s cultural heritage came from Portuguese customs, holiday celebrations there are still very similar to American or European traditions! For example, Brazilians will even decorate a Christmas tree to celebrate the season, but rather than bringing home one grown on a farm; they will use an artificial tree.
Traditional nativity scenes or “presépio” are also famous, as are plays based on the birth of Jesus. One popular twist to the story unique to Brazil is the addition of a shepherdess character who tries to steal the infant from the manger!
But Jesus isn’t the only star of the Brazilian Christmas show. Just like in many other countries, Santa Claus is an essential part of the holiday for children, though in Portuguese-speaking countries he is known as “Papai Noel.” Though he is still said to come from the North Pole, according to some versions of the story he makes sure to change from his red coat to red silk robes to stay cool in Brazil’s tropical climate! Like American children, Brazilian children sometimes hang up a sock or stocking in the hopes that Papai Noel will find it and leave them presents.
Papai Noel isn’t the only one who gives Christmas presents in Brazil. “Amigo secreto” or “amigo oculto” is a popular way of giving gifts that might seem very familiar to Americans. It’s their version of Secret Santa! Just like in the U.S., Brazilians who play amigo oculto will receive a person’s name at random and send their secret friend small presents throughout the Christmas season, culminating in a big reveal on Christmas day.
Special Christmas foods are also an important part of the Brazilian holiday season. Because Brazil has a long and multicultural history, a huge variety of foods from around the world are customary parts of the Christmas meal. Throughout the country, turkey and vegetables are an important part of the meal. However, in the southern regions, the multicultural influence is especially prominent.
Traditions brought to the country by Italian and German immigrants are still strong so that many Brazilian families will include “stollen” or “panettone,” traditional German and Italian cakes, as part of their Christmas meal.
Food isn’t the only multicultural part of a Brazilian Christmas; the most popular Christmas carol was originally written in German. First called “Stille Nacht” and known as “Silent Night” in English-speaking countries, “Noite Feliz” is a beloved part of the holiday season for Brazilians.
Even though the Christmas season there falls in the middle of summer, a Brazilian Christmas shares many customs that American and European families will be familiar with. They also share in the joy of giving, family and togetherness over the Xmas season.