Explaining Brazil’s Christmas Traditions

Explaining Brazil's Christmas traditions. Rio de Janeiro's Christ statue on Christmas Day.
Explaining Brazil's Christmas traditions. Rio de Janeiro's Christ statue on Christmas Day. (Photo: 52736740 / Brasil © Satori13 | Dreamstime)

The World’s Largest Catholic Nation Celebrates Traditions We All Share.

Explaining Brazil’s Christmas traditions includes family, friends, religious reflection, presents, and plenty of food to share!

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Presented by the Consulate-General of Brazil in Chicago and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department.

In celebration of Brazil’s Bicentennial year, 1822 – 2022

This week’s Brazilian Minute: Explaining Brazil’s Christmas Traditions

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Script from Audio:

Welcome to Brazilian Minute, brought to you by the Consulate-General of Brazil in Chicago and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department.

Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic county and Brazilian Christmas has its own traditions. Many of them are influenced by Portuguese culture.

Papai Noel arrives on Christmas Eve, and children set their shoes next to the tree. They’ll find them filled with small gifts on Christmas Day. Stockings are hung by the window with care because most Brazilians don’t have fireplaces there.

In the 17th century, a Franciscan friar named Gaspar de Santo Agostinho introduced the nativity scene or Presépio: It’s common in northeastern Brazil.

Families attend Midnight Mass, called the Missa do Galo, named after the rooster that crows at Christmas Dawn.

But most of all, Christmas in Brazil is about family, friends, religious reflection, presents, and food.

So, happy holidays and Feliz Natal!

Read and listen to new weekly episodes of The Brazilian Minute. It’s brought to you by the Consulate General of Brazil, in Chicago, and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department.

Explaining Brazil’s Christmas Traditions

Overview

Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, and just like the USA, is a melting pot nation, too.

So, when it comes to explaining Brazil’s Christmas traditions many are old-world customs that we also share.

For Brazil, a country that’s larger than our lower 48 and vaster than all of Europe, these centuries-old practices run deep.

Many come from Portugal. However German, Italian and Spanish immigrants brought their countries’ beliefs with them.

Christmas Sights And Sounds in Brazil

Christmas music in Brazil differs from ours. European carols such as ‘Noite Feliz’ (Silent Night) are popular and Roberto Carlos’s ‘Jesus Cristo’ is a classic favorite.

In 1995, Simone started Brazil’s trend of popularity for Christmas music in Brazil with her album 25 De Dezembro.  It sold more than a million copies in its first month.

What experience is ranked as the third most popular for Rio de Janeiro’s annual free celebrations? It’s Lagoa’s floating Christmas Tree, behind only Carnaval and the New Year’s Eve festivities on Copacabana Beach.

The floating tree is the world’s largest, drawing several hundred thousand spectators to witness the beginning of the Christmas season and the unofficial start to summer in Brazil.

How big? The Guinness Book of World Records lists Rio’s iconic Christmas tree as topping out at 279 feet.

The Christmas season ends on Kings Day, on January 6, which represents the arrival of the three wise men to present the baby Jesus after birth with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

So, how do Brazilians celebrate Christmas? Let’s explore.

Explaining Brazil’s Christmas Traditions: Christmas Day

First, Christmas Day in Brazil is called Dia De Festas, observed on December 25th.  The day is given over to acts of faith centering on the birth of the Christ child, Jesus Cristo.

Festivities begin the night before on Véspera de Natal, Christmas Eve. Typically, families gather at the parental home, bringing presents to share ahead of the evening’s festivities. These include two cherished traditions, The Missa do Galo and the Ceia de Natal.

Brazil’s Christmas Traditions: Religious Observances

O Misso do Gallo

Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions. The Missa do Gallo is celebrated at midnight to welcome Christmas Day.  (Photo: Halleypo via Wikimedia CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)
Explaining Brazil’s Christmas Traditions: The Missa do Gallo is celebrated at midnight to welcome Christmas Day. (Photo: Halleypo via Wikimedia CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Just as millions of families do worldwide, Brazilian families head to church for the Missa do Gallo, the Midnight Mass. Here, the birth of Christ is celebrated through scripture and song. Communion is offered and blessings are shared among the congregation.

Missa do Gallo means ‘Rooster’s Mass’, offered as a tribute to the rooster who welcomes the first light of Christmas Day. The name (in various forms) is commonly shared throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Spain.

This centuries-old religious event dates to 381, when a proud Galician woman named Egeria chronicles her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Her observations were written in a letter called the Peregrinatio or Itinerarium Egeriae and addressed to her town’s spiritual circle of women friends.

In 1899, esteemed Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado De Assis wrote the classic short story, A Missa Do Galo. Today it is almost required reading for Brazilian students and one of the most included Brazilian stories for published anthologies.

It is a story of innuendo and implications surrounding a simple conversation between a man and a woman on Christmas Eve.

Presented in the elegant – and brilliant – prose of its author, the tale suggests a far different meaning to the conversation taking place. Readers are drawn to the stories’ contrast of meaning at every turn.

Folia de Reis

Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions. Folia de Reis is celebrated to honor the Three Kings,  Costume people in a parade.
Folia de Reis is celebrated to honor the Three Kings, with parades and festivities on January 6th. (Photo: lobotalita via Wikimedia CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Christmas celebrations in Brazil end by honoring the Epiphany on January 6th.  

This day is called Folia de Reis. It pays tribute to the journey of the Three Wise Men, who arrived to witness the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Costumed parades wind through the streets to end at the Church near the town square. You’ll find music and dancing, and plenty of food as part of this community festival.

Held in cities, towns, and villages across central Brazil, this colorful event is one of Brazil’s most symbolic folk festivals.

Nativity scenes such as the traditional Christian creche, are very popular in Brazil. You’ll find them in homes and shopping malls, city parks, and church displays. In Brazil, this is called a Presépio. It is a tradition brought to Brazil by a Franciscan friar named Gaspar de Santo Agostinho in the 17th century.

Explaining Brazil’s Christmas Traditions: Ceia de Natal

Not every Brazilian will attend the Missa Do Gallo. They may choose to socialize with friends after spending the day at the beach.

After all, Christmas Day in Brazil is also the fourth day of summer, and one of the longest days of the year.

So, what is it that draws everyone back to Mom’s house for Christmas? It’s the Ceia de Natal. The not-to-be-missed Christmas Feast.

And what a feast it is. For the most part, Churrasqueiras nationwide are given the day off, as tastebuds shift to the aromas coming from the kitchen.

When it comes to this annual feast of feasts, the menu and timing vary among Brazilian families and can vary by region, too.

The Main Course

Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions; Brazilians enjoy a Christmas Feast. Some on Christmas Eve, most on Christmas Day.
Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions; Brazilians enjoy a Christmas Feast. Some on Christmas Eve, most on Christmas Day.(Photo 263873872 © Estudio Conceito | Dreamstime)

Typically served as main dishes are Peru Natalino (Christmas Turkey) and Chester (Roasted Plump Chicken).

Pork offerings for a Brazilian Christmas menu include savory Pernil (Roasted Pork Loin or Shoulder).  Leitão a Pururuca (Whole Roasted Pig, more common in the countryside) and Tender (Christmas Smoked Ham).

  • It is said that the Brazilian name of Tender comes from the USA, via the slogan “tender-made ham” or ham made with love.  We have no idea if it is true or not!

Brazilian Sides

Brazil is known for its taste-tempting cuisine at home or elsewhere. So, side dishes for your Brazilian Christmas Feast are only limited by your budget and the size of your table.

Here are a few of our favorites.

Arroz Natalino (Christmas Rice)

Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions. Colorful Brazilian Christmas rice on a white dish
Colorful Brazilian Arroz Natalino, Brazilian Christmas rice on a white dish (Photo: courtesy of Suzy Thermomix, with our appreciation.)

In Brazil, dinner without rice means that there is no rice left in the world, and that’s impossible because Brazil grows lots of rice.

This delicious dish is easy to prepare with garlic, both dark and yellow raisins, and both cashew and Brazil nuts.

Salada do Salpicão

Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions. A Brazilian Christmas dish called Salpicao served on a plate. (Photo 156980036 Agfotografia74 | Dreamstime)
The popular Brazilian Christmas dish called Salpicao is served on a white scalloped plate. (Photo 156980036 © Agfotografia74 | Dreamstime)

Originally from the Portuguese, today’s Brazilin Salpicão bears little resemblance to its cultural cousin across the Atlantic.

Prepare shredded roast chicken, diced red pepper, apple, onion and carrots, raisins, shoestring potatoes, parsley, and a little mayonnaise.

Then, toss them together with olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Gostoso!

Maionese de Batata  (Brazilian Potato Salad)

Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions. Colorful Brazilian Potao Salad. (Photo:  Tohma-26391 | Pixabay)
Colorful Brazilian Potato Salad. (Photo: Tohma-26391 | Pixabay)

Truth be told, there are as many variations of Maionese de Batata as there are cozinhas in Brazil. This cultural culinary gift from ancient Germany is a worldwide staple and Brazil’s are among the very best.

Mustard, vinaigrette, or mayonnaise-based, it’s easy to find a Brazilian version that will bring a smile to your tablemates. Simply put, here are a few rules to remember.

  • What defines Brazilian Potato Salad? Diced carrots. Cut them to the same size as your potatoes. Now you know!
  • Don’t overcook your veggies. The end result should be firm, but cooked.
  • Stop the heating process by draining them with cold water.

The trick to a creamy Brazilian Potato Salad is to let everything cool down before blending them together. And be sure not to stir the mayo too, too much. Then, chill for at least two hours.

Rabanada

Explaining Brazils Christmas Traditions.  A plate of Brazilian French Toast, or Rabanada. This traditional dessert is becoming popular in the USA.  (Photo: 201179166  Roberto Junior | Dreamstime)
A plate of Brazilian French Toast, or Rabanada. This traditional dessert is becoming popular in the USA. (Photo: 201179166 © Roberto Junior | Dreamstime)

Yes, aromatic memories of Peru and Tender wafting from the oven will draw family and friends to your table. However, if this side is missing from the menu, the title of Ceia de Natal might well be withdrawn.

When it comes to saving the best for last, Brazil offers an endless selection of cookies, cakes, flans, and mousses. And sweet and tasty Panettones are always close at hand.

However, no Brazilian Christmas feast is complete without Rabanada, also known as Brazilian French Toast.

Taking its cues from its Iberian roots, Brazil’s Rabanada is sure to be the hit of the day. But in Brazil, it’s served as a dessert, not for breakfast. It is pure Christmassy indulgence.

While the basic ingredients are the same, there are a couple of differences from our weekend-morning treat. Crispy on the outside while softly custard-like inside, cinnamony Rabanada takes French toast to another level.

Feliz Natal e Bo Ano Novo

It’s our pleasure to explain Brazil’s Christmas traditions so you can share them with others.

On behalf of the Consulate General of Brazil in Chicago, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department, and also from your family of friends here at Connect Brazil, Merry Christmas! Feliz Natal!

We share tidings of comfort and joy. We wish for peace and goodwill, today, throughout the Christmas Season, and the New Year, too.

Explaining Brazil’s Christmas Traditions

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For millions of Brazilians at home and worldwide, Christmas would not be Christmas without Roberto Carlos singing ‘Jesus Cristo’.