Carnival and New Year’s Eve might be the biggest bashes in Brazil, but Christmas in South America’s largest country isn’t exactly a snooze-fest either. Brazil’s fabulous beaches beckon visitors almost year-round, but from tip to toe, the country also has a sizzling summertime Christmas event schedule that still might feature a snowman or two, despite the high temperatures.
The northeastern city of Natal was born to celebrate Christmas, literally—its name means Christmas in Portuguese and it was founded on December 25, 1599. Kicking off the holidays is the biggest Carnival bash not actually occurring during Carnival season, Carnatal (December 6-9, 2012), one big roving concert along the coast, with moving sound systems blasting axé music (samba-reggae) over the dancing multitudes. Following custom in this region of the country, large and elaborate nativity scenes are set up in houses, businesses and churches throughout the city. The festivities culminate in a huge Christmas fair with parades and concerts from the 26th to the 30th.
In São Paulo state, cool off in the mountain hamlet of Campos do Jordão. Modeled after an Alpine village, the town’s location high in the verdant Serra da Mantiqueira mountain range gives it a spring-like atmosphere, perfect for outdoor Christmas celebrations. Nativity scenes and Santa Claus villages spring up around town with the philharmonic orchestra’s Christmas concert, seasonal menus at the town’s numerous high-end restaurants, and the annual Christmas theatrical performance at the convention center filling out the holiday schedule.
The tiny town of Gramado, in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, was populated by successive waves of German and Italian immigrants, reinforcing and melding with the holiday traditions initially brought over by the Portuguese to the New World. The huge Natal Luz festival celebrates these traditions with light shows, parades, ballet and theatrical performances, concerts, the “Tannenbaumfest,” and even fake snow!
If you find yourself in one of Brazil’s big cities on the holiday, don’t miss the immense Christmas trees and twinkling light displays along Avenida Paulista in São Paulo and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Rio. Otherwise, you’ve got over 4,500 miles of coastline on which to have yourself a merry little Christmas.