Our Christmas in Rio de Janeiro

“Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” Anon

How does a person celebrate Christmas when living in another country? What does a person do when a Christmas tree can’t be bought and presents are not distributed on Christmas day but on the day of the Magi–the day of the Wise men on the 6th. of January?

Well, there is a saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Orientation classes in language school taught us to fit in with the Brazilian culture and customs. We learned never to speak English if there was a Portuguese speaking person that could hear us. We clapped at front doors instead of knocking the way we do here.

So what were we to do at Christmas? How should we celebrate Christmas with our two children, 7 and 5? Should we try to keep Christmas the way we did in  Canada? We decided against that—but should we pick up Brazilian customs? We celebrated to go with a mixture of both.

You need to know that Christmas eve religious services in Brazil were the order of the day—whether it was Mass or a Protestant service. Since we lived in Rio just beginning a church planting project, instead of trying to have our own service, we attended one with Baptist friends. It would begin about 10:00 at night and finish after midnight. Then Brazilians went to their homes to finish preparing for their big meal; it would be held in the wee small hours of the morning, then they would get to bed at daybreak. Our children were small so in our home we all went to bed.

Since we’d had some sleep, on Christmas day we were ready for something else—let’s say different. When you think of Rio—you probably think of beaches with white sand and sun. Our children thought that beaches were what Rio was all about. At that time we lived in the South end of Rio in a suburb called Méier. A long line of mountains separated us from the beaches but we could cross over by car, part of that time through jungle forests.

The beach was miles long with beautiful sand and on Christmas day it would be almost deserted except for the four Canadians. Great waves rolled in there, but not so big that our children could not play in them. Doris of course had a lunch prepared and as the day wore on she spread it on a tablecloth on the snd. Can you imagine anything more idyllic—the surf and the waves ahead of us, to the left the long scalloped beaches that included Copacabana. It was hard to know when one ended and another started. But there were the spines of the mountain range that came down to penetrate the ocean—those made the divisions.

On the other side, away from Rio, there were 500 or 600 miles of beaches till a person arrived in the port of Santos. Beaches are endless in Brazil, all along the coast.

There our children built sand castles and had all sorts of fun in the waves. And another interesting activity! To our left, just before the mountain came down to the sea, a small river flowed into the ocean—perhaps some 75 to 100 feet across at that point—and made salty by the waves that crashed in. Well, I discovered that there were oysters on the rocks over on the other side. So what I did was have each of our children, one at a time, hang onto my back and I swam across. There with a tire iron, I pried the oysters from the rocks, cracked them open, washed them in the salt water and there we had a ready-made lunch.   Actually, neither my family nor I developed a taste for oysters—except when they were freshly pried from the rocks.

Our celebration of Christmas in Rio was certainly different—even different than most Brazilians. But it suited our family and didn’t conflict with how our friends celebrated. I am not sure that our children, now grown, would remember much about Christmas at the beach. But they were good times—in fact I would give almost anything to be able to turn back the years and again celebrate Christmas as we did. Ah, to once again, to be with our young family, to play on a beach just outside of Rio. Then I remember that better celebrations than beaches are prepared in eternity for all Christ’s followers.



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