Monday, January 3, 2011

Celebrating the New Year in Brazil

While most of you folks are dealing with the cold, and many are still up to your…ahh…knees in snow, 
 we’re basking in the warmth of a Southern Hemisphere summer.
 And here, a stone’s throw from the Tropic of Capricorn, it isn’t only our weather that’s different. Our customs are as well.
 I’d like to share a few of them with you.

On New Year’s Eve we:
Dress ourselves in white. (Brings luck.)
Eat lentils. (Also brings luck. My wife firmly believes in this one, and makes sure I comply. It is a matter of indifference to her that I am not fond of lentils.)
Suck the pulp from seven pomegranate seeds, wrap them in paper and put them in our wallets  (To ensure that, throughout the New Year, those wallets will always contain money.) Alternatively, you can use a single bay leaf.
Eat three grapes at midnight. (For wish fulfillment. You make a wish as you consume each one.)
 Stand outside and fling coins into your house. (Brings cash to the household.)
Avoid eating crab. (Crabs move backward, symbolic of regression, not progression.)
Avoid eating fowl, like chicken and turkey. (Fowl have wings, which can cause your luck to fly away.)
Hold glasses of champagne in our hands and jump up and down three times. (This ensures that everything bad that ever happened to you will be left in the past. It only works, however, if you manage to do it without spilling a single drop of the bubbly. After which, you empty the entire glass over your shoulder. For obvious reasons, this is best done outside.)
Get up on chairs, or benches, and stay there as the clock strikes twelve times at midnight. Then get down, stepping first with the right foot. (This should not be attempted after consuming too much champagne.)
Enter the New Year with money in our pockets. (In the hope we’ll always have some there in the twelve months to come.)
 Put banknotes in our shoes. (This is said to attract even more money.)
 Only use clean handkerchiefs after midnight. (God knows why.)
Make sure that the first person we embrace to wish a Happy New Year is a member of the opposite sex. (This is supposed to bring luck in love. I’m not sure which sex you’re supposed to embrace if you’re gay. I shall have to ask one of my gay friends about that.)
Run around the house carrying an empty suitcase. (This only applies to those of us who plan to travel in the course of the coming year. Caution must be exercised not to bump into people jumping up and down with glasses in their hands, thereby causing them to spill champagne.)
Light candles and throw roses into the sea. (This is done to please Iemanjá, Queen of the Waters and mother of the Orixás. Most Brazilians are, to some degree, spiritualists, and this custom is taken very seriously.)
On the beaches of Copacabana and  Ipanema  hundreds of thousands of people make their offerings at midnight. Some of them also give The Lady perfume, money even jewelry.
Step into the ocean and jump over seven waves in succession. (To help us to overcome physical and spiritual difficulties in the year to come. ) Many family members join hands as they do this, symbolic of the family overcoming those difficulties as a unit.
Make a lot of noise. You can use whistles, drums, beat on pots and pans, whatever it takes – but it has to be exactly at midnight. After which you start shooting off your fireworks. (This, of course, harks back to the ancient peoples who did it to frighten away evil spirits.)
Brazilians are very big on fireworks on New Year’s Eve. This year, there were eleven barges anchored four hundred meters off the beach at Copacabana. Each barge fired off 1,200 huge skyrockets and the pyrotechnics went on for twenty minutes. More than a million people stood on the beach and watched the show.

Sing Adeus Ano Velho, Feliz Ano Novo. It’s our equivalent of your Auld Lang Syne
Brazil’s biggest New Year’s party takes place in Brazil’s largest city. This year, as last, a huge stage was erected on São Paulo’s major thoroughfare, Avenida Paulista.
Big names from the world of Brazilian popular music performed and a huge amount of fireworks lit up the sky. The party started at eight PM, was still going on at 3:00 AM.
More than 2.5 million people attended.
Happy New Year, everybody! I hope you enjoyed your parties as much as we did ours.

Leighton – Monday


  1. Wow - it would take me the whole year to recover! Plus at my age, I'd need a checklist to ensure I did everything correctly! I'd hate to jump over seven waves and throw my shoes stuffed with money over my shoulder. Or was I meant to pour the champagne into the shoes and float pomegranate seeds in them?

    Best wishes.

  2. Like Stan, I would also need a checklist. I would also need a few helping hands to get on and off the chair.

    Pomegranate seeds vs bay leaf - as long as it isn't necessary to suck on the bay leaf first, that seems a much less messy choice. Jeff said the Greeks break a pomegranate at the entry to their homes. If much champagne is consumed it would seem some might be in danger of breaking a bone; the entries to the home are also the exits. Party guests might have some trouble negotiating the slippery mess.

    Jumping over waves isn't likely to be a custom that would be imported to the frozen north. However, Boston does have a tradition of jumping into Boston Harbor on January 1. There are a few major differences, the most obvious being the water temperature. On Saturday the water was 42F.

    In 1904,a group of men in their 50's decided that they would swim everyday. They were members of the L Street bathhouse in South Boston. They were called the L Street Brownies because their skin was browned from being in the sun for most of the days of the year. Bad weather did not stop them. Over the years, non-members were allowed to participate. In the 1980's women were accepted as members. Now it is a fundraiser for youth sports programs and scholarships for kids who live in South Boston. The first day of 2010 over 600 people ventured into the water. The official number hasn't been released for Saturday's plunge but since the air temperature was warm by our standards, the number is likely to be higher.

    On Christmas Day, the northeast had a significant snow storm. Toward the end of the week, the temperatures climbed above freezing.
    It was 48F yesterday. Much of the snow has melted. Walkways and roads are free of the now dirty snow and there are patches of grass peeking through on the lawns.

    Today it is in the 35F range. Another snow storm is expected on Friday.

    The old cliche is true - if you don't like New England weather wait a minute. Not too long ago, we had a blizzard on April 1.

  3. Pomegranate! Did someone say pomegranate?

    Slowly he turned, step by step, leaping over waves among coin tossing, lentil-laden, grape-gorging, white clothed, champagne dancers all holding candles in search of the perfect pot.

    Now THAT sounds like a party!!

    Feliz Ano Novo!!!

  4. Gorgeous, Leighton. And it sounds like everyone would be too busy to get drunk. Although I doubt that.

  5. Put money in your shoes...and then use it to pay a merchant you really don't like.

    Suck the pulp from pomegranate seeds and put them in your tip a waiter who really really pissed you off.

    Jump up and down with a full glass of champagne? Okay, that's just decadent. Or a rumor started by the Brazilian Dry Cleaners' Guild.


  6. Hmmm. I've started the year out all wrong. I didn't do any of these things. Except eat pomegranates. But I didn't stick the seeds in my wallet. Can we wind the clock back and start again? :)