This Christmas was the most unusual I’ve ever experienced, for sure. Every year around this time there is a ten-day religious dance festival in Bragança, in honour of São Benedito, the only black saint in the Catholic Church, and the protector of slaves, from whom most Bragantians descend. It culminates on Boxing Day (São Benedito day), with a huge procession through the city, carrying a statue of the saint, holding Baby Jesus, bringing it to the São Benedito church. The women are beautifully dressed in elaborately ornamented hats and red skirts on Christmas Day (symbolizing the blood of the slaves), and blue skirts on Boxing Day. The men are all very handsome in white. Around midnight on Boxing Day they perform a complicated ritual in order to enter the church, where they will attend a mass.
I did try to join the dance, that’s accompanied by the rabeca, a few days before, but were gently advised that bare shoulders were not appropriate. Ack! It looked so fun! And what was so charming was the mixing of young and old. More often than not, a young boy of 10 or 12 years would gracefully lead a more mature woman on the dance floor.
On Christmas Day, I wrongly assumed there would be some kind of family celebration in the Aurimar household. Instead he went to twelve different houses to visit his friends, according to tradition. In the evening I joined a carnival parade, celebrating the state bird of Pará, the Guará. A beautiful princess skipping around in impressively high heels, and a hunter with a big rifle, led the procession. Someone explained why they were there, but I have forgotten now. It was accompanied by a big truck with a model of the red bird and a lot of loud music that swiftly was turned off every time we passed a church or hospital.