Tag Archives: brazil

New Years in Brazil

Informant Information 
Nationality: Brazilian American 
Occupation: Student 
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: Apr 27, 2022
Primary Language: English 
Other Language(s): Portuguese

Background
My informant is a good friend of mine and we started talking about her Brazillian culture in McDonald’s after our bible study.

Performance
S- So for New Year’s, everyone wears white to symbolize new beginnings. So everyone has on a white outfit and then you basically party all night, watch the fireworks that’s all normal. Everyone makes wishes and dreams but it’s mostly wearing white and a night full of dancing and celebration and stuff but when we say a night full of dancing, it really is like It’s not fake like America like we danced for an hour and then we call it a night, like we are dancing, we’re celebrating we’re feasting and dishes of fish and so usually on more celebratory days fish is the option because steak is a common thing and there’s a famous meal called bacalhau, which is I forget what type of fish it is in English but it’s a fish dish with potatoes and vegetables and it’s so bomb and it’s the steakhouse the rest of the time, we’re all carnivores.  

Thoughts
This is the first time I’ve heard of wearing all white as a New Year’s. If carnival is any indication of how long and hard Brazilians can party, I believe that New Year’s would be no different.

Personal Ghost Story

Text/Interview:

DS: “One summer, I was visiting family in Brazil. There are lots of storms there over the summer. One night there was torrential rain. However, it was not the rain that woke me up. Instead, I arose to a little rattling noise. As I came to, the room filled with fog. My room started to get really cold and I saw this demonic figure in the corner of the room. The figure was dark and skeletal. I could feel its evil aura and was completely petrified. I couldn’t move. The figure slowly crept closer and closer until he was right at the head of my bed. The sheets went flying right as thunder struck and he vanished into thin air.”

Context:

DS has family who lives in Brazil. According to him, the house he was staying in was extremely old and the architecture is not quite safe. As a result, he believes that someone either died in the house over its long history or someone died during its construction. Either way, DS knows that there is an evil spirit that haunts that house in Brazil and it is seeking revenge.

Personal Opinion:

While I do not know the validity of the story, I believe that DS saw what he claims to have seen. Encounters with evil spirits are not too uncommon and a rainstorm would be a perfect time for one to strike. Spirits are liminal figures who are neither alive nor dead. Thunderstorms are a liminal time between two sunny days. There is a great in between and I would not be too surprised if this is when spirits roam in Brazil.

A Tame Sort of Trance

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“I was just thinking about my experiences when I was a teenager in Brazil with a family of Lebanese immigrants who were Druze, and had the belief of many paths to the mountaintop. But they also had a uh.. a spiritualist element. And after I’d been there several months, they let me go to a family ceremony which was on a Sunday. One of the uncles would go into a trance and kind of channel spirits and try to get insight into some of the issues facing the family. So he would stand there and close his eyes, and appear to be communing with the spirits. And everybody would be quiet and sitting around, um, and then he would speak to them. But that was all in Arabic so I didn’t understand a word. Um.. But other than that, then they would say he’s asking about some problems we’re having with the business or this or that, and he would get some direction. They…they had these kind of sessions where one or more of them would kind of be in a sort of trance-like state. So I remember viewing that and thinking that was sort of interesting.”

Whenever I think of communing with the spirits, I picture ouji boards or fire-and-brimstone preachers in the deep south flailing around with snakes on their arms. I picture people getting real serious and asking about life’s deeper questions. It’s quite funny to picture this fairly frequent occurrence, where a member of the family would go into a trance and just ask advice for everyday problems. Obviously, the whole thing was treated seriously, as my dad had to earn a certain amount of trust before he was allowed to attend. But even so, there’s a lightness to it that is not normally associated with channeling spirits.

 

Commonplace Reincarnation

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese, Druze immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And they also believed in reincarnation. Very strongly. Cause my – the Brazilian father of the family I was with never talked about it, but his wife said as a boy growing up in Lebanon, uh, when he was a young boy he started remembering his death as another person. His life. And he kept remembering more and more about it. And he was a young guy and, uh, a middle aged man or something, and there was a feud going on with another family.  And every year he started to remember more about this past life.  And uh, one day he remembered going to the water and he was bending over, washing his face, and looking up in the water and seeing one of his enemies behind him swinging something down. And he remembered his own murder. And after that he never talked about it. But it was common knowledge in the family, when he was growing up, as a kid he remembered this other life. So they all, they all believed in reincarnation. But it was interesting because, I would never have imagined this serious businessman recounting past life experiences. But he was a boy. But there was some story of him going to the house of the person who had been killed when he was twelve years old. And he knew the family and he told the family. And he knew where things were hidden in a drawer and things like that. Yeah, cause he remembered from his.. from his past life. So, but – the family – I was going, ‘weren’t they amazed’? But when they were telling me this story – it was the old uncle Rashid who was telling me this – and he said, ‘oh no, it happens all the time in the Middle East, it’s no big deal’. Like it’s common. ”

Holy cow this story is incredible. I’ve only ever read about these sorts of reincarnation stories online, but to hear it from my dad was a whole other experience. In America, stories such as these are usually scoffed at and forgotten in a matter of hours The same is true in the Middle East, however their reasoning is the exact opposite of ours. Whereas we think of reincarnation as being wholly impossible, there, it is so commonplace that stories such as this are considered drab and boring. It’s insane to think that there is a whole group of countries that believe in reincarnation so readily that they never really talk about it at all.

Reveillon

Informant was a 45 year old female who was born in Brazil and currently lives in Brazil. I talked to her over Skype.

Informant: This holiday is New Year’s or Reveillon, in Portuguese. Ever since I can remember we always used to celebrate it. It is a very fun holiday. We always wear like white clothes, and everybody is happy to say goodbye to the old year, and to welcome the new year, and we see a lot of fireworks at night, and theres party, and everybody throws flowers into the sea, and we have a big supper with lots of food. It’s a lot of fun.

Collector: Do you know why you wear white?

Informant: I think we wear white because it’s to bring you peace, and it’s a custom that we do and everybody does, but nobody really explains why, we just assume that it’s to bring peace.

Collector: Do you know why people through flowers into the sea?

Informant: It’s like an offer to the goddess of the sea called Iemanja to bring good things for the new year. It’s an African thing, it’s a custom that we usually do. We have a lot of African influence in our culture.

Collector: What if people aren’t be the sea on New Year’s?

Informant: Most of the people go to the beach for New Year’s, but even if they’re not, most people wear white or eat grapes usually foods with seeds inside. I don’t know why, but they have to eat certain things to bring good luck. We usually have to eat grapes and lentils sometimes we eat also. They usually serve turkey and everybody like has a turkey or something made of pork and panetonne, which is something from Italy. But everybody have panetonne in their house, which is a mix of bread and cake. People think that eating these things will bring you good luck. Everything you do on new years is to bring you good luck.

We also jump the seven waves. It is a tradition also, we jump it to bring good luck. I don’t know the reason, I just know that we usually do that. There is a superstition of making the wishes as soon as it turns the year. We go to the beach, and jump the seven waves and for each wave we need to make a wish, it’s a link to Umbanda which is an African thing, its purpose is to honor Iemanja, it’s a gift, because 7 is like a number that is considered spiritual. And when you jump the 7 waves you call the power of Iemanja to open new paths for the next year. It’s like the Brazilian version of a New Year’s resolution but spiritual.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: Because it’s something that is a lot of fun, we are always with family and friends. We are surrounded by love we are partying and happy and theres lots of food, and it’s nice. It’s summer in Brazil at this time of year so it’s a holiday and it’s a lot of fun. I was born in rio, and it’s really big in Rio. It’s famous for the very big party in Copacabana, a lot of people go there because it’s right next to the beach.

I am actually Brazilian, and have celebrated Reveillon multiple times. However, I never really thought about why we do the things that we do, such as wear white and throw flowers into the ocean and eat certain foods. I found it really interesting to learn about the reasons behind what we do, and that it has a deep-rooted history in our culture and the formation of Brazil and it’s people. I also think it’s funny that most of the things we do are meant to bring luck for the New Year. Nothing really is dedicated to love, or friendship, or health, it’s all for luck, which I find really interesting.