Imagine it’s early in the morning, the sun is about to rise and you’re sitting on the beach waiting for it to break through the horizon.
That’s what I spend most of my summer doing. Well, summer for me and winter for people in the UK.
When the holidays come along, I don’t put on one of those ugly Christmas sweaters and drink mulled wine. I pack my bags and go home to Brazil where I put on my swimsuit and drink caipirinhas instead.
There’s a lot more to Brazil than its beaches but we are blessed with over seven thousand kilometres of coastline that connects us to the Atlantic Ocean.
“By ten there’s barely any room on the sand to place your umbrella”
Having the ocean to our right means that every morning we get to see the sun rising over the water welcoming another beautiful sunny day.
“I love everything about the beaches here,” says Luiza, a local. “The scenery, the people, the food. Everything.”
In the morning my sister and I will grab our surfboards and head over to the water before the crowds start showing up, we wouldn’t want to run people over in the water with our amateur surfing skills.
While we wait for the waves we watch people arriving for their day at the beach.
Brazilians spend the entire day at the beach during their holidays, myself included. People start showing up at around 9:00am and within an hour, there’s barely any room on the sand to place your umbrella.
Looking around there’s so much to see, there are people playing volleyball, football, and my personal favourite, frescobol, a type of beach tennis played with wooden rackets and a rubber ball.
Of course you also get surfers in the water who are able to break away from the massive crowds taking over the beach.
When hunger strikes there’s endless possibilities for food. There are beachside kiosks where bathers can choose to sit and eat on a table or have a waiter bring them the food to where they’re sitting under their umbrella.
I usually go for corn on the cob and coconut water straight from the coconut. Other options are breaded shrimp, chips, crab, and any alcoholic beverage.
“I think that for me the best part is that you can drink at the beach,” said Maria Eduarda, a Brazilian living abroad in Miami. “I’m not sure if there’s a lot of other places in the world that allow that.”
People who visit Brazil usually underestimate just how strong the sun actually is. “The sun burns even when it’s cloudy,” said Juliana. “So you know you’ll get tanned no matter what the weather is like.”
It’s so easy for us to spot gringos (foreigners) on the sand. They’re the pale ones who are quickly turning red and brought a backpack to the beach. It seems that no matter how much sunscreen they put on, they still burn.
Of course there’s also Brazilians who burn but we know that when the clock hits the midday mark, it’s time to settle under the umbrella.
Some people on the other hand choose to go home while the sun is strong and come back later.
Brazilians are stereotyped for being obsessed with their looks due to the high number of plastic surgeries in the country.
Yes, people do care about their looks but when summer comes women put on their bikinis, famous for being very small, and men put on their speedos regardless of their body type because being at the beach is about being free.
People often ask me what it’s like to have Christmas in summer – someone once asked if I got two Christmases, one in winter and one in December – and to me it’s completely normal.
I don’t enjoy Christmas movies because they all take place in the Northern hemisphere and show houses covered in snow.
My reality is nothing like that and I wouldn’t change it for the world, especially when it comes to New Year’s Eve.
A while ago, I made a promise to myself that I would only ever spend New Year’s at the beach. There’s nothing like the tradition of the turn of the year in Brazil.
People wear white because it’s meant to simbolise peace and just before midnight everyone heads down to the beach to watch the fireworks.
Big crowds of people in white are seen hanging around with glasses and bottles of champagne in their hands just waiting for the stroke of midnight.
The colour underwear worn as the years switch is also important. Each colour symbolises something that you’d like to bring into your life in the next year. Green is for luck, Yellow is for money, Red for love, Purple for spirituality, Black for luxury and the list goes on…
Once midnight hits and the fireworks start, friends and family start hugging each other and the occasional stranger also manages to get a few hugs from other people’s families (Brazilians are very friendly).
It is also tradition to throw a handful of lentils into the air for prosperity and to eat three grapes while making one wish for each grape.
After these traditions have been completed, everyone walks over to the ocean and jumps over seven waves. Some people make one wish for each wave but I usually run out of wishes with the grapes.
“As my tan slowly starts to fade I can start looking forward to next summer and more carefree beach days”
Those who are more spiritual choose to give an offering to Iemanjá, or Yemoja, a water deity of African origin who is worshipped by many Brazilians. Offerings can range from flowers to jewellery or hand-made items.
These traditions only take a few minutes to complete and depending on which beach you’re at, fireworks shows can go up to thirty minutes so there’s plenty of time to enjoy watching the sky change colour.
The real party starts after people have wished each individual family member (Brazilians have big families) a Happy New Year.
There are beach luaus, clubs, concerts, house parties, it doesn’t matter if a house has three people present, there most certainly will be a party happening.
My sister and I once crashed a stranger’s party. Like I said before, Brazilians are very friendly and we got free champagne and made tons of new friends.
New Year’s is possibly the happiest holiday after Carnaval but that’s a completely different tradition and a story for a different day.
One thing I like to do is head down to the beach and wait for the first sunrise of the year. There’s nothing like watching the sun bring light into a promising New Year.
After that, it’s back to a normal day at the beach but this time, people bring their hangovers with them.
A few days before I fly back to the UK, I need to start mentally preparing myself for the switch in temperatures. I go from over 30ºC to just 3ºC.
Forget culture shock, temperature shock is what hits me.
And now it’s back to cloudy skies and rainy day, and as my tan slowly starts to fade, I can start looking forward to next summer and more carefree beach days.
All images by Nicole Gheller