New Year's in Rio de Janeiro and the Candomble Faith
The New Year's Eve celebration that happens yearly on the beaches of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro is a tradition that comes from the African Candomble religion. Although the actual religion is African, it is heavily mixed with Christianity and indigenous medicinal practices. This interesting combination is a result of African slaves being prohibited in practicing their own religion in the new world. The slaves brought in Christian imagery; thus Iemanja is often identified as the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ is associated with the most revered god, Oxala. In this manner, the religion is considered monotheistic.
The New Year's party in Rio is a good bit different than most others in the world. First off, everyone comes dressed in white for the New Year's celebration. This is a deeply entrenched tradition and is considered good luck. Accessories can be worn in all different colors, red being a harbinger of romance. Not wearing white would make you stand out like an oak tree in the Sahara desert, so the black in your wardrobe should be left behind for the night.
During the day, thousands come to the water to pay homage to the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea, Iemanja. Candles, flowers, and beautiful rich roses illuminate the waters and white gladiolas float amongst the waves, and entire navy blue and white boats filled with flowers and wishes are left to the sea goddess, with hopes she will answer the desires and wishes expressed within the contents of the boats.
Wishes are expressed through the objects that are left in the boats: tiny mirrors and hairbrushes for the goddess to stay beautiful, along with soap, flowers, clothes and headdresses. Rio is littered with small shops that offer all of these offerings, along with small wooden statues of the goddess herself, and of Exu, who serves as the messenger between humans and the goddess. Hardly any of these cost more then U.S. $10 so even the poorest Cariocas and Brazilians can afford to buy a small offering and express their hopes and prayers to the goddess.
A Candomble priestess may bless you if you choose to do so, and you will have the opportunity to watch traditional religious dances and songs performed on the beach. These beautiful dances are performed in delicately laced white garments called Baiana dresses to steady drumbeats. You should keep in mind that all of these celebrations are done out of deep devotion for God, and demand respect as much as a Mass in a church does. Taking photos is allowed, but should not interfere with the ritual.