Thursday, 25 December 2008

Which contains A Christmas Message. Or not. The Lula government has brought many positive policies to Brazil – bolsa familia (reportedly the world’s largest basic welfare programme), and the soon to be introduced university quota system, which will guarantee 50% of federal university places will go to public school students, and a decent, though probably not decent enough, salario minimum, for example. But when Lula is gone and commentators look back on his legacy, perhaps what will be most remembered is his work into solving one of the country’s greatest conundrums – why is Christmas so shit in Brazil?

It’s simple enough, companheiros, Lula may or may not have growled at a big public rally today. (And if you’re short of a parlour game this afternoon, I suggest thinking of which verb of speech best fits with your political figure of choice – Paisley bullroared and bellowed, Blair smarmed, Bush toadied or weasled, Hitler stoked or incited, Barack Obama, well, I’m sorry to say it, great chap and all that, but doesn’t Barack Obama on the palco remind you just a little of an insurance company’s regional sales rep giving his I’m a tiger annual conference pep speech?).

Anyway. It’s simple enough, growled Lula, the sweat already soaking through his shirt, his heavy belly swaying. For you in Northern Europe and the USA, Christmas is about getting together with your family. Ha! We see our families every day in Brazil. And for you Christmas is an opportunity to think about God. Big Fizz! Here in Brazil we think about God almost all of the time - or at least we say we do, and that’s what counts. You gringos have to celebrate something in December, because you haven’t seen the sun for three months and you’re not going to see it again for another five. Here, meus amigos, we see the sun EVERY DAY! So I say to you, companheiros – Christmas Schmismus!

Wild applause from the assembled PT hordes.

It’s not that Brazilians don’t celebrate Christmas – an example, and here’s a firstworldism* for you – The Christmas Lights On Oxford Street are something akin to the lights on my mother’s Christmas tree compared to the purple and green and gold and red blaze that shines from the bridges of Recife and reflects on the rivers below and sets them alight and the twinkling glow from the hundreds of Chinese lanterns hanging in the Praça Da Republica. It’s just that Christmas feels like any other public holiday in Brazil – drink too much, eat too much, go to the beach/bar/restaurant, and then go back to work the next day.

Anyway – I’ve cracked the conundrum now, in my third Brazilian Christmas. It’s never going to be turkey and three different types of potatoes (I'm Irish remember, when all's said and done) and stuffing and turkey and ham and sprouts and carrots and sausages and cauliflower and gravy and Christmas pudding and Christmas cake and mince pies and then the same all over again except colder on Boxing Day. So the trick of surviving the Christmas blues in Brazil – do exactly what you want and forget about festive fun. Today, for example, I ate pizza, drank wine, re-watched a couple of my favourite films (which is almost the same as spending time with old friends, but not quite), took the dog for a walk, went for a swim, read a book, talked briefly to the neighbours, wished a Happy Christmas to everyone I met, planned an adventure, made some firm decisions regarding affairs of the heart, and fell asleep on the couch.

What could be better than that? And best of all, tomorrow life begins again, in all its forwards and backwards and sideways drifting, because there is no Boxing Day in Brazil. And for that, if for nothing else, we must give thanks this holiday season.

Happy Christmas, readers!

firstworldism (noun) – an inherited belief that an object, or place, or person in the “First World” is the greatest example of its kind anywhere in the world – and that generally everything in the “Third World” (mountains and jungles and stripy animals with funny names aside) is pretty much rubbish. See also waterfallsNiagra vs Iguaçu. And yes I know “First World” and “Third World” are meaningless, pejorative definitions these days, but it's Christmas, so give me a break, ok?

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