Guide to Celebrating New Year's Eve in Rio de Janeiro
Besides the Brazilian Carnival, one of the largest events in Rio de Janeiro is Réveillion, the New Year's Eve celebration. This famous party happens on the iconic Copacabana beach. Millions of people come from all over the world to join in on the festivities that include a variety of traditions. Here's a guide to this grand celebration:
Rio's NYE Traditions
The most popular tradition, and the only one I followed, is to wear an all-white outfit to Réveillion. White symbolizes peace and renewal. Many people will wear white as a base outfit, combined with a pop of traditional accent colors. Green for good health, yellow for wealth, red for passion and romance, and purple for inspiration.
As the clock strikes midnight, hundreds of fireworks burst into a rainbow of colors in the sky. This was the first time I was truly enamored by fireworks. It was something special about seeing the colorful backdrop against palm trees and crowds of smiling people wearing all-white, popping champagne, and yelling ' feliz ano novo'!
Brazilians avoid eating poultry during NYE because of the belief that birds scratch the earth backwards, and consuming them will mean not moving forward in life. Instead, Brazilians will eat fish or pork, which move forward. Also, it's customary to chew seven pomegranate seeds or raisins, and store the seeds in your purse or wallet with money in it for the year to bring more fortune. Other food customs include eating lentils, the traditionally lucky bean.
Honoring the Goddess of the Sea
One of the most celebrated traditions in Rio is honoring Lemanjá, goddess of the sea in two of the most practiced Afro-Brazilian religions today, Candomblé and Umbanda. These religions started in Bahia with slaves that were brought from Africa in the 1500s. People throw flowers into the ocean hoping that Lemanjá grants their wishes for the New Year. It's considered bad luck if your flowers come back to you, aka Lemanjá rejected the offering. To avoid this rejection, some people send their offerings out on small flotation devices. As so, immediately after the clock strikes midnight, and the fireworks show is done, Brazilians rush to the sea and skip over seven waves, so that Lemanjá will open up new opportunities in their life. With each skip, you get a wish. It's important to not to turn your back on the sea while you leave the water.
Getting to the Beach
The streets near Copacabana beach were closed off, so our Uber driver took us as far into the region as possible, which was still a 15-minute walk. We walked with an energetic crowd of party-goers. The tunnel we walked through was filled with the echoes of people screaming of joy and excitement.
When we finally arrived to the boardwalk area, it was crazy to think that this was the same beach we visited a few days prior. There were people everywhere, on the sidelines and also camped out on the beach. Overpriced caipirinhas, food, and flowers for Lemanjá were sold by street vendors. But, a lot of people brought their own coolers of food and drink.
Pro-tip: Be wary of people walking around selling pre-made food or alcoholic beverages. For instance, if it's meat, you wouldn't be sure of how long it's been removed from heat and if it's alcohol, it could have been spiked or made with cheap ingredients. Only buy from vendors who are grilling their food on site and who make the drinks in front of you.
The headliner for the NYE festivities, was Brazilian superstar Anitta. Earlier in our trip, one of our Uber drivers was playing Anitta and asked if we knew who she was. He was really offended when we said no, and stopped the car to pull up her videos to show us the glorious singer we were missing out on. This made me even more excited to see her live in action.
This was the first time I felt uneasy in Rio. Minutes into being in the area, my friend and I caught a few teenage boys eyeing my bag. Luckily, we made enough eye contact with the teens that signaled for them to not follow-through with their plan. Shortly after that we heard a loud noise that could have been a gunshot or a firework, but it resulted in a large crowd of people running! With our adrenaline pumping, our main goal was to find a spot that was less crowded. We eventually met up with our guy friends and found a slightly less crowded area across from the beach and next to a group of police officers--This made me more comfortable!
Pro-tips: I kept my cross-body satchel toward the front of my body with the flap facing me. Leave your valuables at home. Do not hold up your phone above your head when taking pictures and videos. You should keep it close to your chest and hold on to it with a tight grip. Sometimes people run through the crowd snatching phones that stick up in the air.
After the fireworks show ended, we decided to walk on the beach to potentially jump in the water--#Fortheculture. It took us 20 minutes to get through the chaotic crowds and move towards the water (something that would normally take less than 5 minutes). We walked in a single file line, staying really close to one another. Unfortunately, one of my friends got his iPhone stolen from the back of his pocket during the walk. Despite being extremely crowded and a lot of pushing happening, I was surprised that I didn't see any physical fights, just a few curse words thrown around.
Overall, as much as I was grateful to celebrate NYE abroad, being pushed around, the lack of personal space, and a gunshot scare wasn't my ideal way to bring in the New Year. I absolutely love all the traditions that come with the occasion. And I'm happy to say I got to experience it once in my lifetime. But, If I happened to be in Rio again for NYE, I would opt for a beachfront hotel experience where I can view the fireworks and party without the large crowd. Or I would check out some of the smaller celebrations that happen on Ipanema beach, Barra and Flamengo beach.
What has been your experience celebrating NYE abroad? Let's talk about it in the comments!
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