A tropical Natal (Christmas) in Brazil: Photos and songs show how Brazilians do it, but don’t expect to find many African influences

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Note from BW of Brazil: Christmas in Brazil is always a little strange for me. Coming from an American city that is usually cold and often times full of bright white snow, experiencing a city where December is spring and temperatures can range from 75 to the 90s Fahrenheit is a shock, to say the least. 

Praça de Natal na Avenida Paulista acontece até dia 25 de dezembro
2012 on Avenida Paulista

 

And if the weather doesn’t trip you, the Christmas visuals are even stranger. Not strange in what they are, but the fact that something generally associated with cold weather just doesn’t match in a tropical country.

bling bus
The “bling” bus

The decorations can be quite elaborate, but I those WTF moments never cease in a city such as São Paulo. Last year, I remember boarding the blinged out Christmas bus and being greeted by a bus driver wearing a Santa Clause (Papa Noel in Brazil). Of course, I didn’t say it, but I remember thinking to myself, “Dude, it’s about 85°, you gotta be hot as F*CK in that suit!”

Papa Noel
Papa Noel on Avenida Paulista

Now it wouldn’t fair to report all of the strangeness that I feel without reminding readers that all of this quite normal for paulistanos, natives of the city of São Paulo, but sometimes it gets to be a bit sad to see how much of an American colony that Brazil appears to be. Now before anyone points out the fact that any traditions of the US are also imports from Great Britain and Germany, at least those countries are known for having frigid weather. Brazil is in Latin America where there is supposed to be a pride in a mixture of cultures, but as we know that Brazil values its European heritage far more than its other elements, Christmas in Brazil shouldn’t come as a surprise. Heading out for the traditional family Christmas Eve dinner tonight, I’m probably gonna need to turn on the air conditioner in the car! Strange!

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I’m gonna enjoy the festivities, the joy and the food regardless, as everyone else surely will and just to give you some of that Brazilian Natal (Christmas) flavor, check out these two Christmas songs, one old, one new. The first one, by three of my favorite MPB artists, appeared on YouTube less than two weeks ago and some of the lyrics actually make reference to a few things I wrote above. The second is a 1976 classic from one of Brazil’s greatest Soul music singers and composers. 

Natal Tropical (Tropical Christmas) (Jair Oliveira)

Luciana Mello, Jair Oliveira and Wilson Simoninha

It’s Christmas
Naturally hot in Brazil
The style of these kind people
It enchants more than the moon there in the sky!
Come hear
That in the place of the bell is the tambourine
Announcing endless partying and love
Dancing samba is coming Santa Claus
And the stars making the night more joyful
Christmas has no ice or snow here
But it has the brightness of so many smiles
Paradise is to gather friends and family
In God’s Protection
How wonderful!!
In Brazil, Christmas is everything!
All this:
Lights on the fern,
Samba at the beach party,
Love, heat and a good time
Tropical Christmas like we’ve never seen!
Dress in green and yellow
Santa Claus in flip flops
So colorful and so beautiful
Very original!
It’s the great tropical Christmas of Brazil!!
Beat the tambourine,
Merry Christmas like this
For you and me

Video: Biruta Films under the direction of Fred Farah
Audio: Samba Team S
Voices: Luciana Mello, Jair Oliveira and Wilson Simoninha

Hoje é Natal (Today is Christmas) (Cassiano/Paulo Zdanowski)
Cassiano

Today is the birth of stars in the sky.
It’s Christmas today, Santa Claus.
Left you the bells of love
And amidst the flowers in the living room, in the bar
Fireplace and children playing
And in the garden our dog growling
Our swans adorn the orchard
Everything is beautiful, it’s Christmas
How many laughs it’s Christmas.
Lots of laughs, it’s Christmas.
Live smile
Night of love, of happy people
Night of color, of blue so full of peace
I want to have a lot to give you
Oh, dear mother, know that I
I’ve never forgotten you, Mama.
Today is Christmas, it’s yours too.
Mom

I want to have a lot to give you
Oh, dear mother, know that I
I’ve never forgotten you, Mama.
Today is Christmas, it’s yours too.

I want to have a lot to give you
Oh, my dear, know that I
I’ve never forgotten you, Mama.
Today is Christmas, it’s yours too.

Christmas with African decoration

Courtesy of Afro Brasileiros

Here in Brazil, there are few decoration options with African influence for the Christmas period. In previous years two malls that announced having an African decoration were only to attentive the natural beauties of the continent.

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Part of the decoration at Cidade Jardim Shopping Mall in 2016

Both the Cidade Jardim shopping center and São Caetano presented only African wildlife. Tigers, zebras and life-size giraffes, and Christmas tree balls with animal print along with pine cones and branches of foliage made up the mall scenario.

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Christmas decoration in the Park Shopping São Caetano

But if you look for other options, the artist Tom Ruthz Maia has an idea that approaches the African tradition.

“My Christmas tree would be in the shape of a Baobab (traditional African tree) and I would decorate it with hundreds of children’s faces from many parts of Africa,” observes the artist.

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Using typical African tree pendants as a pendant may be a good option! What counts is to use your creativity and to dare without fear of guaranteeing your Africanness even in this context.

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Note from BW of Brazil: As I pointed out last year, the observation of Kwanzaa is starting to catch on within small circles within Brazil’s black consciousness community. It is far from popular but the fact that it is even being discussed and celebrated says something about black Brazilians seeking an alternative method of celebrating the season with some sort of connection to their Afrocentricity. And following my above comments, it’s fitting that the commemoration is also imported from the US. I’ve never personally gotten into Kwanzaa due to the controversial past of its creator, which from what I gather, most black Brazilians who celebrate the holiday are unaware of. In the small piece above, the folks over at AfroBrasileiros.net explain that it is very difficult to find African elements during Brazil’s Natal season and, as such, in the piece below discuss the origins and meanings of the Kwanzaa festivities as celebrated in the United States. 

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Upcoming Kwanzaa event in SP

Kwaanza

Since the period of civil rights struggles in the United States in the 1960s, African Americans created Kwanzaa, which was born with the mission of uniting the black people of the diaspora. Since then the Christmas of many African-Americans is celebrated on December 26.

Kwanzaa is a língua suaíli (Swahili language) word that represents the first crops in traditional Africa.

kwanzaa123_0-696x449

Kwanzaa was conceived by Maulana Karenga, who says that this is a “celebration that happens through rituals, dialogues, narratives, poetry, dance, singing, batucada and other festivities”. In fact the rituals are quite complex. The days before the Kwanzaa period, which lasts 7 days, are to decorate the house with black, red and green paper ornaments. A period where children are taught about their culture and history.

Coletivo Nação Black in the Casa de AngolaOsasco (Kwanzaa)
Kwanzaa event organized by the Coletivo Nação Black in the Casa de Angola in Osasco, São Paulo in 2016

Kwanaa is organized around 5 fundamental activities, common to African harvest celebrations of the first fruits:

  • the reunion of family, friends, and community;
  • reverence for the creator and creation, especially giving thanks and the reaffirmation of commitments to respect the environment and “heal” the world;
  • the commemoration of the past honoring the ancestors, learning their lessons and following the examples of the achievements of history;
  • the renewal of commitments to the highest cultural ideals of the community such as truth, justice, respect for people and nature, caring for the vulnerable and respect for the elderly;
  • the celebration of the “Bem da Vida” (Well of Life) which is a set of struggle, achievement, family, community and culture.

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In addition, Kwanzaa involves reflection on the value of community, children and life, through activities that should demonstrate the seven principles, Nguzo Saba – in Swahili:

1 – umoja (unity)

2 – kujichagulia (self-determination)

3 – ujima (collective work and responsibility)

4 – ujamaa (cooperative economy)

5 – nia (purpose)

6 – kuumba (creativity)

7 – imani (faith)

During the 7 days of celebration each day a candle of a different color should be lit on an altar where fresh fruits and an ear of corn are placed for each child in the house. After lighting the candle, they all drink from a common bowl in reverence to their ancestors, and greet with the exclamation “Harambee,” which means “gather all things together” and “let’s do it together.”

The big party is celebrated on January 1st. Many foods, music and joy are key features. Each child should get three gifts that should be modest: a book, a symbolic object and a toy.

The celebration ends when everyone has eaten, stands up and commits themselves to the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is already celebrated in North America, Canada, the Caribbean, the United States and England.

Source: Afro BrasileirosAfro Brasileiros (2)

About Marques Travae 2877 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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