So it's Christmas !!
Twenty-eight. Thirty. Thirty-three. Up to forty degrees. That’s December in Brazil. At least, it always was, before the enfants terribles - El Niño and La Niña - got so temperamental. With a full heat wave, the traffic gets much worse. There’s a real frenzy in the air when everyone jumps into their cars in the frantic search for decorations, things for Christmas Eve and especially presents. Lots of them: for parents, children, the neighbour’s dog, the concierge, the manicurist, for playing Secret Santa and for anyone who gives you a warmer smile towards New Year. Suddenly, everyone feels a little bit like Father Christmas.
Nothing stops grown men from donning Santa costumes in shopping centres all over the country. Small children form queues to ask for a wish and take a picture. These days, preferably a selfie. Which is a pity, because those little letters written in capitals to Santa, asking for fancy toys in return for promises of good behaviour will soon be a thing of the past.
Outside the home, there isn’t a school classroom that does not get involved in making Secret Santa presents, or a ballet class that does not put on a version of ‘The Nutcracker’. The cities’ shopping streets and upmarket shop windows display lights, pine cones, candles, baubles, bows and stars, pine trees, reindeer and angels. There are so many bells and splashes of red and gold that, if Jingle Bells wasn’t playing in the background, you wouldn’t even notice and your heart would hear it all the same. On the front door of every home, a garland (brightly-coloured, hand-crafted, made in China or from natural fibres, felt and thread) anticipates a pine tree within, (often artificial) filled with trinkets, and there are no great ideas, tropical or otherwise, that designers and decorating magazines have not already thought of!
In Brazil, the Christmas climate inevitably mixes sentimentality and fussiness, consumerism and generosity. If this were the United States, it would be the mixture of Thanksgiving (complete with a juicy stuffed turkey) and Christmas itself, although there the emphasis is on dinner on 25 December, while the main celebration in Brazil is on Christmas Eve.
Christmas, like everything on this country, brings a touch of the cannibalistic: it swallows and digests external and internal influences, viscerally, with no respect for rules. Hence it evokes a European film set, complete with snow and sledges, with the supper table inevitably occupied by sturdy roast meats, gammon and cured hams, dried fruits and red wine.
Equally, no Christmas Eve supper would be complete without a salpicão (a salad with shredded chicken, vegetables, fruit and mayonnaise that does not even remotely resemble its namesake in Portugal, a cured sausage, or the French salpicon). Then there is the rich crumble made with indigenous cassava flour, or Brazilian-style French toast (different from the Portuguese variety as it is made with condensed milk and Port wine doesn’t get a look in) or panettone (or to be more accurate, chocotone with the addition of chocolate chips rather than the Italian-style candied fruit). Brazil becomes the whole world and at New Year, ‘Silent Night’ is played with a Carnival rhythm.