Much like Argentina and Chile, Brazil is a heavily religious country of Catholic denomination (over two thirds count themselves as Catholic). This means that the Easter Celebrations are far more focused on the religious significance of Easter than here in the UK. As with all other aspects of their culture, Brazilians love to put on a show at Easter, Holy Week (known as Semana Santa) being the focus of these celebrations.
Again, much like Argentina, Palm Sunday features a procession and mass involving the blessing and receiving of palm leaves (appropriate to the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem). Later in the week, performers local to the town of Fazenda will often put on a ‘passion play’, depicting Christ’s arrest, the carrying of the cross and crucifixion to a mass of spectators.
Brazilians certainly have a sweet tooth, and Easter is the time to let it run wild – chocolate delicacies are consumed alongside decadent, home-cooked feasts on Easter Day after an abstinence from meat on the preceding Good Friday (traditionally observed by most Brazilians). Along with the kind of chocolate Easter eggs found in all UK supermarkets, Brazilian delicacies such as Paçoca are prepared. Paçoca is made with crushed nuts (usually peanuts), flour, sugar and salt, blended together into a paste and then hardened into an edible sweet. Deliciously dry and sweet, this treat is a real highlight of Brazilian Easter and is often handed out at religious festivals and ceremonies.
Along with Paçoca, Easter Sunday brings the prospect of ‘bacalhau’ – a form of salted cod which can be served in a number of ways. South America was one of the first regions to take up the practice of salting meat in order to preserve it, and this tradition has stuck throughout the years. Roughly equivalent to serving Turkey on Christmas day, bacalhau is almost a staple food for most Brazilians on Easter Sunday.
While the religious and culinary aspects of Easter are certainly important to the Brazilian conception of this holiday, ultimately the week is about spending time with family and close friends. Already very family-oriented, the many religious festivals provide an opportunity to see not only extended family but also members of the community who are in need – the disabled, elderly and homeless.