Friday, December 24, 2010

Witness the Christmas

            The temperature was 38 degrees Celsius in the Centro area of Rio de Janeiro just a few days ago. Summer has merely begun to warm up the massive oven called Brazil. What better time to go hunting for prezzies and the spirit of a holiday that thrives in the harsh winter conditions of more northern climes? This activity will be pursued after frolicking in the waves and drinking a good number of half-frozen cervejas on the beach over the next six hours.

            If you are here and writhing in desperation to see something related to Natal (Christmas in Portuguese), then simply wander over to any ol’ shopping center or department store.  In some of these places you can pretty much forget that you’re not at Yorkdale Mall or the Eaton Center.  However, do not buy electronics or clothing because your wallet will get a thorough milking.  Turn on the television. It won’t be long before you find a seasonal flick, a heart-warming show that involves Jesus, or someone in an elf costume encouraging everyone to make a purchase.  You may also head over to the Lagoa, Rio’s large lake, to marvel (half in awe, half in disgust) at the 85 meter, floating metallic Christmas tree.  It’s not really a tree, of course, but it does emit a lot of light and colour.

            Centro is a portion of the city that can instill a more genuine sensation of Christmas upon one’s soul.  When exiting Carioca metro station, there is sometimes a gentleman who wields a saxophone and honks out familiar carols with an admirable amount of proficiency.  His between-carol laughter and indecipherable commentary make the package complete.  A few blocks away, a mechanical Santa is perched high on a ledge above the hoards of humans bustling and sweating down below.  He rotates and waves happily enough, but if the real Santa decided to come here wearing that outfit, he would be lucky to continue living for more than thirty minutes.  Not too many steps away from the robotic Santa, an inflatable Rudolph stands on a mound of cotton inside a giant plastic sphere and looks to the next shop, which has undressed, fake pine trees out front.  In this place you can track down all the decorations, cards, presents and personalized wrapping you could possibly require.  It is a busy and lively spot that is made better by being able to haggle with the vendors to save a few reais.
             Around our home, in the upper parts of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood, it is also possible to identify significant evidence of Christmas.  Outside a small bar, a woman is demonstrating how an advent calendar functions to her chums and a car tootles by not long after that which contains an elderly gentleman pumping out an instrumental jazz version of Jingle Bells.  We also witness a plump lady with tight-fighting garments strolling around with the family dachshund.  This pooch is not bothered by either it’s red and green boots or it’s Santa hat. Looking to the distance behind the festive dog, you can view the favela (slum) of Prazeres and see that even in the poor, run down communities, Christmas lights attached to homes are a fairly common sight. 

              In short, as soon as you try to seek out Yule, you’ll walk right into it.  This country is heavily Catholic, and the people here have had a long time to figure out how to do Christmas when most of the population has never encountered snow.   In addition, It must be tremendously difficult to feel sorry for someone in Brazil during Canadian winter.  The woe of not having quality time with family or receiving presents can be dismantled by hiking through a rainforest to gorgeous waterfalls or gawking at the skimpy swimwear many humans wear to the beaches of paradise.