Ringing in the New Year on Copacabana Beach is one of the most magical and mystical New Year experiences—at least in the Western Hemisphere. Rio’s Reveillon is second only to Carnaval in terms of pure spectacle.
As night falls, millions of people clad in white congregate on the beach of Copacabana. The white symbolizes the purity of the new year and is also the color associated with Iemanjá, an immensely popular Afro-Brazilian religious deity (“orixá”) whose title is Queen of the Seas.
As legend has it, Iemanjá is a vain woman who loves beautiful things. Accordingly, revelers arrive at the beach bearing her favorite gifts: roses, perfumes, jewelry, and champagne. At the stroke of midnight, they wade into the ocean and toss their offerings into the dark Atlantic. If Iemanjá accepts their gifts, they are ensured a happy year. If the waves sweep them back to shore, better luck next time.
Midnight also signals the start of a gigantic fireworks display (touted as the world’s biggest) and a series of open-air live music shows that take place at stages erected at various points along the beach. Then it’s dancing and drinking the night away under the stars until morning, when everyone rings in the first day of the year (and rinses off the night’s excesses) with a dip in the ocean.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition