So I started teaching classes last week! It was right before Easter, which made coming up with lesson plans easy: I’m here to be a cultural ambassador, and that means sharing holiday traditions and spreading the Gospel of Peeps.
For the most part, though, Easter celebrations here seem pretty similar to those in the US. In general, Brazil is a pretty Catholic country, and the high rates of Italian immigration to my region have only increased the influence of Catholicism. (Although for some reason, I don’t think people abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent.) I have picked up on a few differences between Easter in the US and Brazil, though, and I wanted to talk about those those with my students.
Here are the three main differences I shared with them:
1. Easter isn’t as big in the US because we emphasize other holidays
The first thing I told my students was that Easter isn’t as big in the United States as it is here. Even though it’s definitely the most important religious holiday for a majority of Americans, it doesn’t seem to be as culturally enshrined as like the Fourth of July or Christmas. By contrast, I get the impression that Easter is more of an event here—a special occasion that needs to be celebrated in certain ways.
One of those ways is with family. For this reason, both my host mom and coordinator have compared Easter here to Thanksgiving in the US. I get the sense that Easter is a homecoming holiday here, and many of my students told me their plans for Easter were to spend the day with their families.
Another way to celebrate Easter seems to be by traveling. Pretty much all the students who didn’t tell me they were seeing family told me that they’d be going somewhere else for the weekend. The beach was an especially popular destination.
(Being as culturally open as I am, I decided to combine these two approaches and celebrate Easter by taking a Saturday trip with my host mom and two university friends. We went to Gramado, a small nearby city known for its German heritage, annual film festival, and most importantly, chocolate.)
2. In the US, Easter is associated with spring
In most of the US, Easter hits right around the time that trees start to bud and animals begin raising their young. This dovetails really nicely with Easter’s theme of resurrection and new life, but it also means that countries in the Southern Hemisphere (like Brazil) experience Easter at the very end of summer.
That doesn’t mean the imagery here is any different—I still see bunnies and eggs and flowers, like in the pictures above—but I think it does influence how people celebrate the holiday. For example, I get the impression that Easter represents an opportunity to get to the beach one last time, which makes me think that it’s a seen as a holiday like Labor Day.
3. Food-related traditions are different
In the US, you have your Easter ham. Here—like you do for any reason at all, it seems—you have churrasco. (Not that I’m complaining.) But when it comes to Easter candy, chocolate eggs reign supreme.
The chocolate eggs we have in the US aren’t like chocolate eggs here. First, they’re huge (it’s not uncommon to see them as big as 3/4 lb), and you can’t enter a grocery store without running into them. I say this literally—they’re displayed on this special scaffolding between aisles so that they hang down like foil-wrapped fruits. This is something you need to pay attention to if you’re walking around while 6’2″.
Sometimes, these are the eggs that the Easter Bunny then hides around the house for kids to find each morning, leaving a trail of flour footprints (which may or may not bear some resemblance to a parent’s hand). In other houses, the Easter bunny hides little chocolates around the house, or leaves all the chocolates and gifts in a big basket that’s been prepared the night before.
Tragically, these chocolate eggs seem to be the only exclusively Easter candy here. They don’t have Cadbury eggs or Peeps or the fun Easter-themed adaptations of other popular candy bars. In my class, I found myself chalking this candy’s existence up to the US’s rampant consumerism—which, to my shock, I found I actually sort of missed. But I pushed this thought to the back of my mind and then plunged right into several slides detailing how great Peeps are, featuring pictures from the Washington Post’s Peeps Diorama Contest.
Because foreign candy is the best candy, I brought some Peeps and Robin Egg Whoppers from the US to share with my students. I understand that Peeps are a controversial foodstuff back home—and I told my students as such—but I can report that everyone I’ve shared Peeps with have uniformly found them adorable. And as far as taste goes, the worst review they got was “I like the little eggs better.”
Speaking of eggs, dyeing them doesn’t really seem to be a thing here. One of my students said his family paints eggs, but only after their contents are drained through a hole in the bottom. My host mom told me that sometimes people here put sugared peanuts inside the empty shell during Holy Week, and then crack open the egg to enjoy the peanuts on Easter.
I didn’t get to try this, but I did spring for a giant chocolate egg from a chocolatier in Gramado. These eggs get a bad rap for being expensive, but let me tell you: every word of it is true. I think I got confused about what exactly was on sale, because I spent the same amount of money on this stupid egg as I did for all-you-can-eat sushi last week.
Anyway, that’s how I celebrated my Easter—with a mix of traditions from the US and Brazil, fostering a little bit of intercultural exchange among the way.
Oh, and also? Watching the ‘Cats win it all, again \V/