Looking for a white Christmas

Ron Burtz
It’s a good thing Santa’s reindeer and sleigh can fly, because when he gets to Giovanna Day’s house in Sao Paulo, Brazil, there’s no snow to glide on. That’s one of the things Day finds exciting about experiencing her first Christmas in the United States: the possibility of a white Christmas.
Day came to the Black Hills in January as a foreign exchange student at Custer High School and will graduate at the end of the semester and return home to South America, but not before celebrating an American Christmas.
“In Brazil, it’s summertime when Christmas comes,” said Day. “We don’t have snow at all, so it’s like a whole different scenario.”
Day said winter in her Southern Hemisphere nation is more like a milder version of summer and temperatures don’t even hit freezing. She says you would have to travel closer to the South Pole to a country like Argentina to find snow. 
Because of this flip-flop in seasons, Day said students in Brazil don’t get a week off from school for Christmas like American school children do. That’s because there is no school. Summer break there is during December and January. Winter break is the month of July.
In spite of the absence of snow, Day said Brazilian children still believe Santa brings presents in his sleigh pulled by reindeer.
She remembers writing letters to Santa as a child, believing that, “If you’re on his good side, you get presents. If not, you don’t.”
Of course, St. Nick is not called Santa in the Portuguese-speaking country. He’s known as Papai Noel, which Day said means “Daddy Christmas.” (Day pronounces Papai like “Popeye,” only with the emphasis on the last syllable.) 
Aside from those environmental differences, there are many similarities between the Brazilian and American observances of the holiday.
“Lights are everywhere in the streets,” said Day. “It’s beautiful, especially in the night. In the middle of town, they put this huge tree, like for everyone.”
At home, there are many elements familiar to Americans, as well. Families place presents under a Christmas tree (although Day said they predominantly use artificial trees rather than cut live trees) and gather with extended family for feasting and celebration.
Day’s immediate family consists of her parents and two older sisters, but has many aunts, uncles and cousins who “love to hang out as a family.”
Her family begins the celebration by getting together for a big mid-day meal on Christmas Eve and continues the party through the next day. Christmas presents are opened right after midnight in the wee hours of Christmas Day. 
“We all get together and we do a little prayer, then we open gifts,” said Day. “That’s the funnest part.”
Then on the day itself there is another big “fancy” noon meal. 
“My family likes to party, so we do both days,” said Day.
The dinners usually feature turkey, pork and other meats along with salads and rice, often with dried fruits added. 
Much of the food contains a unique Brazilian substance called farofa, often used as an additive to rice dishes, but which is also used with meats and other foods. Farofa is a toasted cassava- or corn- flour mixture which can be found commercially produced and packaged, but is often prepared at home based on family recipes.
Day said farofa is eaten throughout the year, but is especially predominant in Christmas dishes. 
When asked to tell the biggest difference she’s observed in the celebration of Christmas in America versus her country, Day exhibited confusion about the connection between Christmas and Thanksgiving. She said there is no Thanksgiving celebration in Brazil and expressed interest in learning the origins of the uniquely American holiday. 
Day will stay with her Custer host family,  Valerie Warner and Cody Pesicka, through Christmas and then will make her way home to the middle of a Brazilian summer. In the meantime, she’s enjoying winter and snow and looking forward to having a white feliz navida in Custer. 
To hear Day give a traditional Portuguese Christmas greeting, use the My Black Hills Country app on your smart phone to scan the photo accompanying this article. 

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