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Customs of Brazil

Marriage and Family

ImageFor a wedding to be official, a legal civil ceremony must be performed. Many Brazilians also have a religious ceremony. Wedding parties are often elaborate, with much food, drink, and music. Common-law marriages are not unusual.

Families are traditionally large. Maternal and paternal sides of the family are considered equally important. The elderly who cannot care for themselves live with their children; it is considered improper to send them to a nursing home.

The tradition of male authority in the Brazilian family is gradually giving way to more equality between the sexes, and more careers outside the home are becoming available for women. Children usually leave home when they marry, and male children may leave sooner for employment reasons. Family members rely on one another for assistance, and young people often work outside the home to help support their families.


ImageBreakfast usually consists of café com leite (coffee with milk), bread, cheese or marmalade, and butter. Lunch and dinner may include beans, rice, meat, salad, fruit, potatoes, and bread. Cuisine varies from region to region. In Bahia and other northern states where there is a strong African influence, foods are often flavored with dendé (palm) oil. In Rio de Janeiro, a popular dish is feijoada, which originated as a clever way of using up small quantities of leftover meats and is made from black beans with beef, pork, sausage, tongue, and sometimes a pig’s ears, nose, and tail. People in the south enjoy churrasco, a barbecue with a variety of meats. Bife a cavalo com fritas (meat with egg and fried potatoes) is popular in many areas. In addition to coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks, Brazilians in the south drink chimarrão, an herbal tea without sugar. Batidas (shakes) made of fruit juices and alcohol are also popular.

Conversation following a meal often takes place over a cafezinho, a small cup of thick, black coffee. Cafezinho may be drunk several times a day. In restaurants, the bill is requested with the phrase A conta, por favor.


Brazilians tend to greet each other with a handshake, but good friends often embrace. Women often kiss each other on both cheeks, although in reality they may actually only touch cheeks and kiss the air. Common greetings are Como vai? (“How are you?”) and Tudo bern? (“Is everything fine?”). Friends may greet each other with a simple Oi (“Hi”). When joining or leaving a small group, it is polite to shake hands with everyone present. Tcháu (“Good-bye”) or Até logo (“See you soon”) are common terms for parting.

Brazil’s mild tropical climate allows for much time outdoors. Many homes are built with open but shaded patios and interior courtyards. Sidewalk cafés and garden restaurants are common. People often eat a late dinner and socialize late into the evening.


The national sport is futebol (soccer). Futebol was introduced to Brazil around the time of World War I (1914-1918) by Scottish railway engineers. Brazil’s national team has been one of the best in the world for many years. The national team has several World Cup victories to its credit. Brazilians are so passionate about soccer that businesses and schools may close during important international matches. Fans from different clubs usually mingle peacefully inside the grounds of the stadiums, although in recent years soccer rivalries have sometimes sparked violence in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Other popular sports include basketball, volleyball, tennis, boating, swimming, and auto racing. The country went into mourning when Ayrton Senna was killed in a crash during the 1994 Formula One Grand Prix season. Other leisure activities include going to the beach, socializing, watching television and films, dancing, and listening to music. Regional festivals and traditional dances are often lively events.

Holidays and Celebrations

On New Year’s Eve (31 December), in addition to the traditional New Year’s Eve parties, thousands of practitioners of the Candomblé and Umbanda religions hold a special festival on Brazil’s beaches to honor Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea. This festival is particularly popular in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Bahia. Tablecloths encircled by lit candles are laden with gifts brought by devotees to the goddess. At midnight those gathered, dressed in blue and white, move into the sea bearing their offerings. If the gifts are swept out to sea, it is a good omen; if they are spat back onto the shore, it is a bad omen.

Carnaval, a five-day festival preceding Ash Wednesday in February or March, is the most famous Brazilian holiday. It is marked by joyous street parades, music, samba dancing, parties, and elaborate costumes. Most shops and offices are closed for the duration of the festival. Many Brazilians put significant time and money into their participation in Carnaval, using an entire year to prepare for the next festival’s floats, costumes, and dances.

Brazilians celebrate the Easter holy days from Good Friday (the Friday preceding Easter) through Easter Sunday. On 21 April Tiradentes Day is observed as part of Inconfidência Week, which commemorates the unsuccessful Brazilian independence uprising of 1789. Joaquim José da Silva Xavier was martyred during the uprising. He was called Tiradentes (“Tooth Puller”) because he worked as a dentist.

Labor Day is observed on 1 May. Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic celebration of the Eucharist, is a legal holiday on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which occurs sometime in May or June. The Festas Juninas (June Festivals) are mainly for children and are celebrated locally with fair-type activities. They coincide with the feasts of Saint John and Saint Peter. Independence Day (7 September) celebrates Brazil’s liberation from Portugal in 1822. Nossa Senhora Aparecida is a public holiday on 12 October. All Souls’ Day is observed on 2 November. Proclamation of the Republic Day, on 15 November, commemorates the day in 1889 when Brazil was proclaimed a republic. Brazilians exchange gifts and eat the main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. Gifts from Papi Noel (Santa Claus) appear on Christmas morning (25 December). Brazilians also observe a variety of local and state holidays.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas