In Brazil over New Years, everyone wears white and goes to the beach to throw white flowers and candles into the ocean on January 1. The story behind this was when African slaves arrived in Brazil they had to give up all of their gods and goddesses. As a replacement for Iemanja, their goddess of the sea and patron of women and children, they chose the Virgin Mary. So these flowers and candles are not actually for the Virgin Mary but to Iemanja. This is actually a pagan ritual but during the enslavement of Africans in Brazil the it was disguised to be a Christian new years tradition, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
K.L. went to Brazil during new years in the 1990s and participated in this tradition with his friends. He explained, ”I thought it was interesting how the enslaved Africans were able to keep part of their culture alive by disguising it. But now it’s well known that it’s not really a traditional Christian custom in Brazil, but to honor Iemanja“.
Looking further into the tradition, the flowers and candles thrown into the ocean are meant as offerings to Iemanja to grant their wishes. If the flowers or candles drift back to you the wish will not be granted. I think the color white is worn to symbolize being reborn (over the new year). The flowers and candles are white for the wish’s purity. And the candle is lit to represent the light and hopefulness of the wish. The wish is taking on physical form through flowers and a candle and given to Iemanja, the ocean. This is homeopathic magic, using colors and gestures to imitate how a wish is granted during a special time of the year.