June’s most significant Catholic holiday, Corpus Christi, is a public holiday in Brazil and its colorful celebrations affirm religious beliefs throughout the country. This year, Pope Francis announced the Church would officially commemorate the holiday on Sunday as opposed to Thursday, matching Italy.
But Brazil decided to keep its public holiday in place, with most Brazilians taking tomorrow off work. It is one of ten nationwide public holidays in Brazil, in addition to other regional public holidays.
Corpus Christi is the celebration of the Eucharist, which is Christ’s symbolic presence on earth in a host body. It takes place approximately 50 to 60 days after Easter. Symbolism focuses on the body and blood of Christ, represented by bread and wine in ceremonies. These symbols carry the message that as food maintains the body, religion maintains the soul.
How do Brazilians celebrate?
Brazilian Catholics will attend a mass towards the end of the day, and will light candles as they follow a walking procession at sundown. Meanwhile, Candomblé and other Afrobrazilian religions celebrate Oxossi, the hunter orixa, on the same day.
In many of Brazil’s cities, Corpus Christi is celebrated with processions through the town center. Many cities will also create colorful walkways, filled with religious symbols and emblems, for the procession. This tradition was born in Portugal and crossed the Atlantic Ocean centuries ago with Portuguese colonizers.
Normally, these designs are created with colorful sawdust and stretch for blocks upon blocks of the procession’s route. Smaller parishes have, at times, used flour as a cheaper way to decorate. Additionally, cities also add their own signature styles to processions with flowers, leaves, paper, Styrofoam, bottle caps and crushed glass.
Most famous celebrations
Ouro Preto, in Minas Gerais, has some of the most famous Corpus Christi celebrations in Brazil. The small town was the first in Brazil to decorate its procession’s pathway. Matão, in São Paulo, also holds distinctive celebrations, as does São José do Rio Preto. Celebrations in Rio de Janeiro’s Cabo Frio, Santa Catarina’s Rodeio and Espirito Santo town Castelo are also notable.
Over the years, towns have also become more concerned with distinguishing themselves and their identities through the celebrations. One example of a town whose celebrations do exactly this is Ibitinga, in São Paulo. As Brazil’s embroidery capital, Ibitinga embellishes its processional walkway with endless meters of fabric in the hopes of promoting the town’s factories and trade.