I’ve lived close to Copacabana beach for most of my 15+ years in Rio, and have thoroughly enjoyed the New Year’s Eve celebrations here.
Here’s my take on Reveillon—that’s New Year’s Eve here. The basic routine is fireworks over the beach, and various stages set up with musical shows along the shoreline. People come from all over by car, bus, and metro to see this spectacle—over two million of them—mostly dressed in white, and many carrying white flowers to throw in the ocean to the sea goddess Yemanjá. Some come in the afternoon to dig holes in the sand, where they place lighted candles and offerings to the goddess: flowers, food, and drink. Others carry folding beach chairs and coolers.
Somehow, even with all those people, it never feels like a mob. I’ve been right down on the beach for a few of these celebrations, and there’s room to move around and never a sense of being crushed. I’ve lived in two apartments here that had a lateral view of the beach from a short block away, so I’ve had the option of watching the fireworks from my window.
I love the way the day unfolds on December 31. Fairly early in the evening traffic is closed off and people start walking down my street toward the beach. By 11pm or so the street is filled with crowds of folks, mostly in white clothes, trying to get as close as possible to the fireworks, which are set off from a barge out in the water. I remember before the “barge days,” when the fireworks were set off right on the beach. I used to go watch the guys set them up in the sand. At first I was afraid of the idea of fireworks going off right over my head, but after I experienced it the first time, I was hooked! It was absolutely thrilling.
This year I opted for watching the fireworks out my window, so I had a good view of all the activity in my street. By 11:50pm, people were actually running toward to beach to catch the display, which was wonderful this year—no excessive smoke (and no rain!), and some stunning new fireworks shaped like flowers and rockets—it was breathtaking!
But my favorite part of the event is when it’s all over and the people start slowly moving their way down my street away from the beach and toward the public transportation and taxis. I just can’t help the affection I feel for this lovely, respectful crowd as they walk along, sometimes holding hands, or with their arms around each other. As I looked out my window last night, I saw people of all ages—babies in their daddies’ arms, toddlers in strollers, and two very elderly women in wheelchairs, as well as another older lady with a walker, who would take a step and then pause…and the two people with her stood patiently by as she prepared to take her next step.
And among these were the girls and boys, some skipping and laughing, and a quiet contingent of police officers walking along the edge of the crowd, keeping an eye out for rabble-rousers.
I turned away from the window and went back into my room, feeling happy for having witnessed another of these lovely celebrations here in Rio. When I went back to look out the window one more time at 2am, the street was still thronging with people heading home.