I went to Brazil for the first time when I was four to celebrate Christmas and my 5th birthday. I share my December 28th birthday with my grandmother, Cemodoce, in Brazil. Cemodoce translates from Portuguese to English as "semi-sweet." I think that is the coolest name ever.
As you can imagine, there are some differences between celebrating Christmas in Missouri and Christmas in Brazil. Obviously it's hot in Brazil, at least where my family is-the Amazon. Yes, my grandparents' house is next to the Amazon River. I've been to Brazil five times, hopefully six in October, and one of my favorite things about visiting is the dock by their house-fishing, shrimping, looking for fresh water dolphins, looking at the stars at night, and checking out the crazy house boats. So instead of dressing in sweaters, tights, and boots-which for some reason my mother always loved dressing me in, I was dressed in summer dresses and cute little Brazilian made shoes at Christmas time.
Another major difference for a child is American Santa versus Brazilian Papai Noel. Umm, where is Papai Noel going to put my presents if we do not have a chimney or a Christmas tree? The answer, at least in my family, is under our beds-in the bedroom I shared with tons of cousins-cousins who showed me playing cards with naked women on them-super-just what every child should be exposed to. Before that, however, on Christmas eve, we had a huge family party at one of my mother's cousin's house. At the time I thought of it as a mansion, and that's probably pretty close to the truth, especially for Amazonas standards. I can remember tons of little home-made candies and cookies and millions of little kids, somehow all related to me. We sat in a circle on the hardwood floor awaiting a special visit from Papai Noel. In walks this skinny sort of Santa looking guy with a bag of presents. There is a photo of me somewhere sitting in the circle with a look of terror upon my face while looking up at skinny Papai Noel. It just didn't seem right. Why was Santa so thin?
Birthday party time. My mom brought plates and napkins with us from the states with Rudolph on it. One of her aunts made me a birthday cake with the same Rudolph on it. My love for Rudloph the Red-Nosed Reindeer continues today. Anyway, looking back, this was a pretty kick-ass party. It was at night and in the street. A big red pinata in the shape of a Christmas stocking, which my mom made, hung right in the middle of the street where we beat it down. A whole freakin' street party just for me! Not to mention, I got more presents that year than I've ever gotten-birthdays aren't huge in my family. The one gift I remember was a plastic lamp in the shape of an owl wearing glasses. Happy birthday to me.