Christmas in Brazil: Papai Noel, the Three Kings, and Gifts
Brazilians inherited the Latin Christmas tradition of distributing presents to children on Three Kings Day, or Epiphany. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, Santa Claus became increasingly popular in Brazil. Nowadays, children may receive presents from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, as well as additional treats from the Three Kings, or Magi, on Epiphany. Children from poor families may receive clothes and shoes as Christmas presents, whereas children from richer families may receive toys and other less essential items. Adult family members and friends also exchange Christmas gifts. On the eve of Epiphany children leave their shoes beside the window or outside the front door. In the morning they find them filled with candy.
In spite of the summer heat Santa Claus, or Papai Noel as he called in Brazilian Portuguese, visits Brazil in his red and white fur-trimmed suit and hat, black boots, and long, white beard. The Brazilians have improvised somewhat on the Santa Claus myth. For example, Santa enters and leaves homes by the front door rather than the chimney. This makes sense to Brazilians since few homes in that tropical country have fireplaces and chimneys. Moreover, Papai Noel travels to Brazil in a helicopter rather than a sled drawn by flying reindeer. His official arrival in Brazil takes place in mid-December when he touches down in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium amidst a roaring crowd. These "Santa Claus arrival” events may be staged in other large cities as well. Brazilian children, like their American counterparts, hope to spot Papai Noel at one of their town’s busy shopping centers in the days before Christmas.