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You probably know Brazil is famous for its elaborate celebration of Carnival (Feb. 17 to 22). In Rio de Janeiro alone, two million people gather in the streets daily for nonstop dancing, singing, music, and parades.

Brazil’s New Year celebrations, filled with music, dance, ritual, and fun, have a special flair you won’t find anywhere else.

Brazil’s population, among the world’s most ethnically and culturally diverse, creates a dramatic combination of traditions from Portuguese, African, and Amerindian indigenous peoples, with more contributions from huge numbers of immigrants from every continent.

Parties start on Dec. 27 and go on through Jan. 1 and emphasize live music and fireworks.

From African cultures, coastal residents may honor Lemanja (called Yemoja in Yoruba). The mother of the water and protector of fishermen and children, Lemanja is honored by throwing flowers into the ocean. Gifts can be thrown into the ocean, but if one floats back, your offering has been rejected.

From European tradition, some put a bay leaf (a priest’s leaf) and a banknote in their wallets, leaving them together all year until the following New Year’s Eve, when they give the money to someone and throw the leaf into the sea or river for good luck.

Brazilians wear white clothing for luck at the New Year, along with colorful underwear. Red brings love; yellow gives you money; blue, friendship; green, health; and purple, inspiration.

Finally, there is the tradition of the seven waves, a Umbanda (Afro-Brazilian) tradition. When the clock strikes midnight, revelers head into the ocean and jump seven waves. Make a wish on each wave as you shout, “Happy New Year!” You might also eat seven grapes for abundance and seven pomegranate seeds for money.

In their spin on Italian customs, Brazilians often eat lentils and rice right after midnight. They may wash it down with three sips of sparkling wine, another European import, with a wish for every sip.


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