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Christmas in Rio de Janeiro is a lot like the other countries that celebrate Christmas: family-oriented, full of gift exhanges, plenty of food available and lots of drinks to wash it all down with. Yet the only white Christmas in Rio is from the white, sandy shores as people make the most of the festive, sunny days. Here’s how to enjoy a tropical Christmas in true carioca style.
Love it or hate it, Christmas shopping is an inevitable part of the festive season and Rio has plenty of great shopping locations. The department store, Lojas Americanas, is ideal to pick up cheap artificial Christmas trees and decorations to give your apartment, hostel or hotel room some festive cheer. Alternatively, you can go tropical-style and decorate a small palm tree; not something that is common in Rio but doesn’t go unheard of. For Christmas gifts, head down to Saara market that spans across 11 blocks in the city center where you can find everything imaginable from Christmas decorations and souvenirs to clothes, accessories and festive costumes. For quirky gifts, try the Hippie market in Ipanema to buy unique, handmade presents.
A traditional Brazilian Christmas dinner tends to be turkey or chester (a type of chicken) with rice, salad, fruits and farofa. Head to the local supermarket or boutique food stores to pick up an assortment of nuts, cheeses, fruits, biscuits, chocolates and sliced meat and have a picnic at Lagoa to enjoy Brazilian-style Christmas nibbles in the great outdoors. If you are craving a traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings, then there are some eateries that cater for the international and expat crowd. The Gringo Café serves American-style food all year round including waffles with maple syrup and pumpkin pie. As Christmas approaches, they serve a Christmas main meal with turkey, roast potatoes and vegetables, all swimming in a pool of rich gravy.
The hot weather around Christmas is too good to miss and the festive season brings plenty of beach-weather days and opportunities to get a bronzed, festive glow — so slip into your flip-flops and head to the beach! On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the beaches tend to be quieter as Brazilians spend these two days at large family gatherings, making it the perfect moment to enjoy the tranquility of Copacabana — a rarity in the summer period. Get festive and build a sandman, go surfing with a Santa hat on or wrap some tinsel around a beachside palm tree.
Panettone and rabanadas are two desserts that any Brazilian Christmas just wouldn’t be without. Panettone is a soft, sweet bread loaf that originally came from Italy. It is often baked with dried fruits, yet some have rich chocolate chips or doce de leite inside. Every supermarket in Rio stocks them and it is impossible to pass the festive period without seeing these everywhere. Rabanadas are typically made at home, yet you can buy them in bakeries. They are what we know in English as French toast but are covered in sugar and cinnamon and are usually eaten only around Christmas time.
Be sure to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve in true Brazilian style. Christmas celebrations in Brazil start late at night on December 24th with the main meal served at 11 p.m. Then, at midnight, everyone cheers and celebrates, wishing families, friends, guests and visitors a very merry Christmas. The celebrations only stop when tiredness kicks in some time in the early hours of the morning so keep your drink filled and go with the flow.
Amigo Secreto is what we know as Secret Santa and is immensely popular in Brazil between families and friends. Like Secret Santa, a group of people each place their names in hat and then select one name from the group. They then have to buy a present for that person but the identity is kept a secret. In Brazil, usually on the day of the gift-exchange, the ‘Secret Santa’ will describe qualities of the person until everyone guesses who it is. There is even an online amigo secreto to facilitate the process of selecting names. Almost every Brazilian family will do one.