Traditions and customs of Brazil

What traditions and customs are there in Brazil?

We discover the customs and traditions of Brazil, in South America.


Food in daily life

Rice, beans, and cassava form the core of the Brazilian diet and are eaten at least occasionally by all social classes in all parts of the nation.

Cassava is a root crop typically consumed as farinha, cassava flour sprinkled over rice and beans, or cassava flour, cassava flour, sautéed in a little oil with onions, eggs, olives, or other ingredients.

Meat, poultry or fish are added to this nucleus, but the frequency of their consumption is closely linked to financial well-being. While the middle and upper classes can consume them daily, the poor can afford these protein sources much less frequently.

Traditionally, the most important meal of the day is a multi-course affair eaten after noon. For middle and upper class families, it may consist of a pasta dish or a meat or fish dish accompanied by rice, beans and cassava and a sweet dessert or fruit followed by small cups of strong Brazilian coffee called cafezinho.

For the poor it would be mainly rice and beans. The evening meal is simpler, often consisting of soup and perhaps leftovers from the midday meal.

As Brazil urbanizes and industrializes, the quiet, family-focused meal at midday is being replaced by lanches (from the English, “lunch”), smaller meals that are usually consumed in restaurants, including those with buffets. that sell food by the kilo and fast food restaurants as ubiquitous as McDonald’s.

The poor, who cannot afford restaurants, are likely to eat their midday meal at home, buy snacks sold on the street, or bring food with them to work in stacked lunch buckets. In rural areas, itinerant day laborers carrying these buckets have been called bóias-frias, “cold lunches.”

Meals can be accompanied by soft drinks – including guarana, made from a fruit that grows in the Amazon – beer or bottled water.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

While the main foods eaten in Brazil are fairly uniform throughout the country, there are regional specialties, many of which are eaten on festive occasions.

In the northeastern state of Bahia, ingredients of African origin – palm oil (“dendê”), dried shrimp, peanuts, malagueta peppers – are the basis of regional cuisine in dishes such as vatapá (seafood stew) and acarajé. (black-eyed pea fritters).

A variety of fruits and fish native to the Amazon are featured in dishes from that region, while in southern Brazil, an area of ​​extensive cattle ranching, grilled meat meals (“churrasco”) are favored. Another southern specialty is rodizios, barbecue restaurants where waiters pass from table to table with large skewers of roast meat and poultry.

Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, is said to have originated in the days of slavery. Traditionally, feijoada contained cheap and less desirable cuts of meat, such as tripe and pig’s feet, as Brazilian slaves prepared the dish with leftovers from the master’s table.

Today feijoada consists of a variety of meats cooked slowly with black beans and seasonings. A complete feijoada or “complete feijoada” is accompanied by rice, fresh orange slices, a side of spicy onion sauce, chopped vegetables such as kale and farinha.

Caipirinhas – a potent mix of Brazilian sugar cane alcohol (“cachaça”), crushed limes and sugar – or batidas (“cachaça” and fruit juice) are often served as appetizers; beer is the preferred drink to accompany food. Feijoada is served in restaurants, typically on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and when prepared at home, it is a favorite dish among guests.


Both civil and religious marriage exist in Brazil, but the number of religious marriages is declining, especially in urban areas.

The poor continue to cohabit and are less likely to legalize their unions than those of higher social status. Due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church, divorce was legalized in Brazil only in 1977.


Brazilians have less of a sense of personal space than Americans and don’t bother being herded into crowded public places. They are physically expressive and convey emotional information through touch.

While in some societies contact has sexual connotations, Brazilians equate it with friendship and a show of concern. Women tend to touch more than men and greet others with kisses on both cheeks, but men also welcome each other with pats on the back and bear hugs.

This informality extends to conversation. Brazilians often address teachers, doctors, priests, and other professionals using their title followed by their first names: Professor João, Doutora Maxine, or Presidente Henrique.

However, the body language and terms of address vary depending on the person’s social position. A domestic worker greets her employer with a loose handshake, head slightly bowed and eyes downcast, addressing her using the respectful “tú” (“a senhora”), instead of the familiar “tú” (“tu”). voceê»); the lady of the house, on the other hand, always addresses her servants as «você».

University graduates or sometimes even those who appear to be well educated are addressed as doutor or doutora (doctor).

Brazilians also have relaxed attitudes towards nudity and the body in general. Look at the skimpy costumes of the carnival performers, which consist of little more than a lock of cloth and a few feathers, and the tiny dental floss bikinis – called “fio dental” – that women of all shapes, sizes and ages wear. used on public beaches in Brazil.

Religious beliefs

Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, despite the fact that the percentage of Brazilians who belong to the Catholic Church has decreased in recent years, from 95 percent in the 1950s. Today, about 73 percent cent of Brazilians identify as Catholic, but an unknown number are Catholic by tradition, not by faith.

Although church and state are separate in Brazil and there is freedom of religious belief and expression by law, there is a close relationship between the Catholic Church and the state.

Catholic holidays are public holidays and a priest (or bishop) always presides over the dedication of public buildings. In addition, church-based educational and welfare institutions, such as religious seminaries, receive financial support from the federal government.

At various moments in Brazilian history, the Catholic Church has either strongly supported the state or vigorously challenged the status quo, as in the case of liberation theology, a late-20th-century movement that provided religious justification for questioning the huge gap between the haves and the have-nots in Brazil.

Catholicism varies somewhat in rural and urban settings. What has been called “popular Catholicism,” which includes beliefs and practices long abandoned in the cities, is observed by people from the interior of the country. This popular Catholicism survives in lowland pilgrimage centers that draw thousands of Brazilians, often from great distances.

The faithful make pilgrimage vows to honor the saint who fulfills their request: recovering from illness or obtaining a job are examples. Sometimes the grateful supplicant offers the saint a carved image of the part of the body that has been healed.

Brazilian Catholicism has always coexisted – generally in relative harmony – with other religions, including those of the nation’s indigenous people, African religions brought to Brazil by slaves, European spiritualism, and various Protestant denominations. In addition, many Brazilian Catholics participate in the rituals of other religions, but consider themselves “good” Catholics.

Candomblé, the best known and most traditional of the African religions in Brazil, is centered in the city of Salvador and has its origins in the Yoruba and Dahomey religions of West Africa. In Candomblé – a syncretic religion (one that combines elements from more than one religion) with both African and European elements – the deities are called through the spiritual possession of the initiates of the cult.

Despite police raids and other forms of social discrimination in years past, Candomblé has persisted and flourished as a vibrant symbol of Afro-Brazilian cultural identity.

Umbanda is another highly syncretic religion with spiritualistic elements that began in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1920s and spread to urban areas throughout the country. With some thirty million followers today, Umbanda has been called Brazil’s only true national religion because it encompasses elements of the nation’s three cultural traditions: African, European, and Indian.

Spiritism, based on the teachings of the French philosopher Alain Kardec and introduced to Brazil in the 19th century, is another spiritual movement with a growing number of followers. Spiritualism is more of an intellectual endeavor than an emotional cry for salvation.

Spiritualists, most of whom belong to the upper-middle class and elite sectors of society, believe that humans are spirits trapped in bodies and that moral perfection is the goal of life.

The live-and-let-live stance of Brazilian Catholicism towards other forms of religious beliefs and expressions is absent in Brazilian Protestantism, especially in its fundamentalist variant. The so-called “new Pentecostals” see the Afro-Brazilian religions and Umbanda as the work of the Devil and dramatically exorcise new converts to rid them of such evil.

Pentecostal churches have had great success in recent years. In often highly emotional services, converts claim inspiration from the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and perform cures. Using radio and television, the sects target the poor and preach self-improvement through individual initiative here and now.

A relatively new sect, the Igreja Universal, founded in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1970s, now has churches throughout Brazil and around the world.

A development in the Brazilian religious panoply at the end of the 20th century was the growth of the charismatic movement within the Catholic Church. With its strong emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit to heal physical, emotional, and material distress; their rituals involving speaking in tongues; and its lively and emotional church services, Charismatic Catholicism has much in common with Pentecostalism.

Secular celebrations

Most of the secular celebrations in Brazil are linked to the liturgical calendar, since many originally started as religious celebrations and later became secularized.

Feast of the Three Kings, January 6. Children go from door to door singing songs and asking for gifts. This tradition has almost died out in urban areas, but survives in the interior.

Carnival, variable dates, from the end of January to March. The famous four-day “national holiday” that precedes Ash Wednesday in Brazil is marked by street parades, samba, music, parties, and elaborate costumes. Their forms vary from city to city and region to region. The most popular street carnivals are in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, Olinda and Salvador.

Day of Tiradentes, April 2. Tiradentes was the leader of the Minas Conspiracy, the most important movement for the independence of Brazil. When the Portuguese Crown discovered that Tiradentes was leading an independence movement, he was hanged and quartered in the public square of Vila Rica, a town in Minas Gerais.

Festas Juninas, June. Brazilians celebrate a number of popular festivals that have their origins in the Roman Catholic tradition. The festivities of San Antonio (June 13), San Juan (June 24) and San Pedro (June 29) are marked by large bonfires, traditional foods and games, square dances and parties for children. Urban kids dress up as rednecks during these festivals.

Independence Day of Brazil, September 7. Brazil was a colony of Portugal until 1822 when Pedro I, the crown prince, declared its independence from the mother country. Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Our Lady of Aparecida), October 12. The feast of Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil, is a legal feast.

Proclamation of the Republic, November 15. This holiday celebrates the disappearance of the Brazilian empire and the proclamation of the republic in 1889. New Year’s Eve, December 31. Thousands of followers of Afro-Brazilian religions celebrate New Year’s Eve on the beaches of Brazil in honor of Yemanjá, goddess of the sea.

Arts and Humanities


The country has a rich literary tradition and several Brazilian writers have achieved international renown, including Jorge Amado, Brazil’s best-known contemporary author. His books have been translated into fifty languages ​​and his writings vividly evoke the sensual and popular delights of Brazil, especially his native Bahia, the setting for most of his work.

Brazil also has a tradition of popular literature little known abroad. String literature—derived from the custom of displaying booklets of verse by hanging them from a thin string or twine—is a form of rhyming verse still popular in the interior Northeast.

In the region with the highest illiteracy rate in the country, these verses spread news and continue cultural traditions. The string singer, who travels from town to town interpreting his verses to the accompaniment of a guitar or accordion, writes the verses, composes the melody, prints the lyrics in a little book -which he also sells- and can even illustrate the work with his own woodcuts or sketches.

Performing arts

Music is not only entertainment in Brazil, but has been called the “soundtrack” of national life. Brazil gave the world samba and bossa nova, but other musical traditions – atuque, forró, maxixe – are less well known outside the country.

Like much of Brazilian culture, the country’s music is nourished by its three cultural elements, although in the musical field it is the African tradition that has the greatest influence.

While Brazil’s musical energies focus primarily on popular, not classical, music, the country was also home to one of the world’s most esteemed neoclassical composers, Heitor Villa-Lobos, who made imaginative use of folkloric themes in his best-known composition, Bachianas Brasileiras.

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