As a kid, New Year’s Eve always meant sitting around the TV watching the ball drop in Times Square. At midnight, we’d grab some pots, pans, and spoons, run outside into the freezing weather, drumming and screaming “Happy new year!”
Last year, Gustavo told me about the fireworks on the beach here in Rio, to which I responded, “Really?!” which was almost the same reaction he had when I said, “You don’t watch the ball drop?” (“What ball?”)
Endlessly curious, I did a little more research to learn about New Year’s Eve traditions in Rio since I was reminded that New York is not the center of the world for everyone and since we’d be spending the holiday here for 2018. I learned some pretty new things!
1. All White Everything
The first thing I ever noticed about NYE in Rio, and Brazil in general, is that everyone wears white. In the weeks prior to NYE, all of the store windows at the mall and on the street are filled to the brim with white clothes. Even in the Ironbound, in Newark, NJ — which has a very large Brazilian community — it’s as if store owners banded together on Christmas and said “That’s it! No more color. All white for everyone.” (And maybe also, “Now, go buy some stock in bleach.”)
Translation: Every day Yemanjá is more demanding in her offerings.
The basic answer for why everyone wears white on NYE is because it symbolizes peace. However, the tradition has it’s roots in Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion that honors the goddess of the sea, Yemanjá, on NYE. Wearing her colors —white, silver, and blue— followers send gifts and flowers for Yemanjá into the ocean for her blessings. The belief is that if the sea keeps the gifts, they were accepted by Yemanjá, but if they wash ashore, the goddess has rejected them.
Outside of the religious significance, white has become the base color and is often paired with an accent color to symbolize a specific hope, wish, or desire for the New Year. The most well known color, for example, is yellow, which symbolizes a desire for money. Blue is for harmony and peace. Red/pink for love.
2. Summertime at the Beach
On New Year’s Day this year, it was hot, the gyms were closed, and we decided to go to the beach for a walk outside. Little did I know that everyone else had the same idea. Many of the beach visitors were still there from the celebrations of the night before. After all, parties in Brazil don’t end until after the sun comes up.
It became an entertaining mixture of people in white, hungover or still drunk, families, children, tourists, and workers cleaning up from the festivities. Entering the subway also meant visiting the beach faster than usual — there was so much sand on the floor!
3. Decisions, Decisions
Brazil doesn’t have a culture of planning, but it does have a huge culture of being social which makes NYE quite the dilemma. Particularly in Rio, there are a TON of parties to choose from, everyone wants to go — ideally to the best one — without spending all of the next year’s paycheck. It was entertaining to watch the various conversations going on around me about what to do for NYE. In the elevator, friends would ask, “What are you doing for NYE? Have you heard about this party? I can’t decide.” The questions began in November and lasted right up until December 30th.
There’s a strong desire to spend the night with people you enjoy, having fun, and ringing in the new year while having a blast. No one wants to be home alone, quiet. And yet, that’s exactly what Gustavo and I chose to do.
I have little to no patience for extensive planning. I’m more inclined to just pick any option that will do the job or bail on planning altogether, depending on how difficult the process seems to be. This year, we were discussing our options and I finally turned to Gustavo — who’d been the one organizing with a variety of friends and neighbors — to say “You know, we could just go to dinner and have wine at home.”
Despite all of the new traditions I discovered, that’s exactly what we did. We went out for an early dinner. Napped. Invited a few friends over. Played a game. Had some champagne. And, happily for me, stayed up a bit after midnight so I could watch my beloved ball drop on TV before saying good night to 2017.