Christmas in Rio

The whole world has been led to believe that Christmas is lots of snow, lights to provide warmth and hope, and a fat man dressed in red fur bringing good cheer to one and all.

Well, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, since theologians, historians, wise guys (I mean, wise men) and shepherds agree that based on historical data and Gospel descriptions with shepherds in the fields, the baby was born around the year 4 BCE and between June-September. Ok, by this we take Christ out of Christmas – and what do we have? No, Virginia, not just “mas” or “mass”. Funny girl. We have the winter solstice – where all the snow, lights and red fur fit like a glove. That’s of course for the Northern Hemisphere.

I’ve always been a supporter of Christmas in July for the Southern hemisphere when cooler temperatures can move us to wish to be “closer” to family and friends while not sweating like pigs in the shade.

We had the chance to go to Rio this week and have got great news for you: it’s still marvelous and beautiful. Even the Christmas decorations – specially at night – make the city more beautiful.

Christmas in Rio is full of contrasts – for a Carioca – it’s cheap – R$ 10 and a pair of shorts allow you to spend a whole day of fun. For tourists it is going to be a little pricier – just a night at Copacabana palace goes into the thousands of reais. But you can always try to rent a couch in the home of a community (favela) dweller for a few hundred bucks.

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Sugar Loaf – Pão de Açucar
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Historical Cable Car – 1912

Of course, some frustrations and throw-your-arms-up in-the-air moments appear: the Sugar Loaf cable car was running only half way up to Urca Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado – a tourist magnet – lacks basic infrastructure and newsflash: they don’t know how to deal with large numbers of tourists under a 110-degree Fahrenheit sun, not a pleasant experience. I loved the easy access areas for the disabled, pregnant women or the elderly – the lines for the van to take them up to Jesus had a wait of only 2.5 hours instead of the regular 5-6 hours for common mortals. A driver told us that there is a van service in Copacabana that takes tourists there nonstop and at lower fares but we learned about it only after we got there. Piece of advice: befriend a local Carioca online before your visit – but choose well: it’s got to be a street smart Carioca. If you get someone who can’t tell the difference between their left or right foot, you’re doomed. Bazeeenga!!

We hired a taxi driver to pick us up IMG_1045at the local Santos Dumont airport and stay with us for the rest of the day. We pre-arranged a daily fare and, of course, the driver at the last minute watsapped us saying she would be busy and referring us to another driver. Other drivers we’d contacted before had plainly stated they didn’t like driving tourists around, or didn’t know how to set a daily fee, or didn’t feel like driving on a hot day, or all of the above. (chuckles).

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The girl from Ipanema comes in all sizes and shapes

Food at the botecos (casual pubs) is inexpensive and home made – Galeto’s at Praça da Bandeira  is a very simple restaurant but food tastes like the one your mom (if she knows how to cook) would prepare for you.

The best part of the day is always the beach – people can and do spend their whole day under a giant parasol eating and drinking whatever the beach vendors have available – from prawns on a stick to Arab cuisine.

The feeling I had was that most of the foreign tourists were Latin American – don’t cry for me, Argentina – followed by Europeans. Of course, you’d expect that such a touristy global city wouldIMG_1080 have locals speaking English as their second mother tongue. Unfortunately, that’s not so. Many people may know some of the basic “sale” “bargain” “ripoff” English to get by, but I still feel that fluent people are found in larger numbers in São Paulo, which is not to say they’re counted in the millions, by the way.

What else can I say? Christmas in Rio? Hell yeah. Just don’t forget your sunscreen and your portable AC around your neck. Oh, and drink gallons of coconut water.    IMG_1114

Cheers and have yourself a merry Natal.

Mo

Candy Cane Pie?

In my “Americanoid” way I love listening to US radio stations – specially talk radio. Sometimes my students tease me saying I know more about the traffic, say, in Tallahassee than in São Paulo. But that’s me, warts and all. For some years now since the last time we visited the National Parks in Utah, our favorite radio station has been FM 100.3 http://fm100.com/- specially their Soft Sunday Sounds programs – this time of the year they focus on Christmas music but not only the same “it’s the most wonderful time of tcandy cane piehe year” songs.

Well, while listening this morning, a commercial announced a special sale of Candy Cane Pies! I thought: “well, that’s pushing the  envelope a little too far”. Googled it up and presto. Now I want to taste it. Lol. Even found some Uncle Phaedrus’ lost recipes. http://www.hungrybrowser.com/phaedrus/m121801.htm

Legend of the Candy Cane
Legend of the Candy Cane
English Sabbath School Class
IMG_3431 English Sabbath School Class
Mo showing the meaning of the candy cane
Mo showing the meaning of the candy cane

Yesterday was the last Saturday/Sabbath before Christmas so traditionally we give our students at Sabbath School a candy cane and tell them once again the Candy Cane Story. There are different versions online but this one is my favorite – since students can actively participate while they listen to the story.

I asked them to hold the candy cane and follow the story – “Look at the Candy Cane what do you see?

Stripes that are red like the blood shed for me.

White is for my Savior who is sinless and pure!

J is for Jesus, my Lord, that’s for sure.

Turn it around and a staff you will see. Jesus my shepherd was born for me!”

The students followed the gestures and also listened and repeated the story. In order to encourage them to be active, instead of giving them the text – I published the text on the class’ Facebook page (Believes Unasp) so those who really want to remember, practice and review the story will have to do their part. Well… actually I forgot to print the story… was busy printing the Christmas bulletin. But everything worked out fine.

Vocabulary this time of the year that many ESL students mispronounce: choir,IMG_1024 chorus – Another word they learn for the first time: carol.

One thing I miss about my Americanoid Christmases: Caroling – Hark! the Herald Angels Sing; Silent Night; The first Noel; and all the classics – Brazilians usually don’t carol much – even in church. Their hymnal may contain some 20 carols but they know 2 or 3 and that’s it. Ok, you have the Christmas concert – where the congregation sits mostly passively receiving the music but not celebrating it. When I’m spending Christmas in São Paulo there is a non-denominational English speaking church – Calvary International Church – and their Christmas program usually follows the small church style in the US – even if they have choir and soloists – the congregation sings a lot of the most loved Christmas carols and since it’s a multicultural church, members often tell a little about Christmas in their part of the world.

Our Sabbath School Christmas Bulletin
Our Sabbath School Christmas Bulletin

Talking about church, this afternoon we’ll be going to a special 60th Diamond Wedding Anniversary / Thanksgiving Ceremony in the neighborhood of Lapa, in the western part of São Paulo. The couple, Antonieta and Seu João opened their home to me and other youth some 40 years ago and never looked back. Seu João can’t walk much now, needs a wheelchair – but you still see the love – what else could you call it? – they have for each other. Some of the people in that church I haven’t seen in 20 years, just hope I’ll know how to reply to their love-loaded comments: “You’ve disappeared”. “You’ve put on weight!” “How come you’re not bald yet!”Have you already made your first million dollars?” “Are you still married to the same person?” Chuckles. Well, you get the gist, don’t you?

Now getting dressed for the slaughter.;-)

Cheers,

Mo

ESL Ghosts of Christmas Past

I’ve always been divided about the Christmas Season. On the one hand I love the religious side as a reminder of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.  I love singing carols and even though you’re sweating buckets in muggy 31 degree Celsius in late spring, I kind of enjoy setting up the Christmas tree and ornaments.

When I was a child, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church generally frowned upon the celebration of Christmas saying it was a Pagan sun-worshiping tradition. Christmas trees were symbols of Satan worship and the Nativity scene, crib, or the sweet French sounding crènativity sceneche would be a Catholic tradition with the worship of idols. Imagine if it had camels and sheep as well. Animal worship! Horror of Horrors!! Ok, I confess I’m exaggerating a little (not much). I don’t remember how old I was, probably in my early 20s when I broke the “commandment” and bought a clay nativity scene wondering if my parents would object to it. As expected, they just shrugged – whatever – they were mostly easy-going on most things.

As a teacher I always tried to teach my students one or two traditional carols – not in order to proselytize or anything like that, first as a cultural point of sharing with them words that English native speakers know by heart across the world. I’d choose “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” or “Silent Night”  and mostly they would show little or no interest in learning by heart a single verse or refrain. Of course, “Hark” and “Herald” are little used words and students would be always questioning my “wisdom” in teaching them such “useless” words.

I also try to use a simple translation of the gospel story of Jesus’ birth – even using a Charlie Brown Christmas, as found in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2 verses 1-20:

 

The Birth of Jesus

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying??????????????????????????????? in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

But, here come the ESL ghosts of Christmas past, most students are in such a rush and busyness that they simply cancel their classes in December or say “I can come to class but stay for only 30 minutes” or something like that, so my ideas of a Christmas lesson fall along the way in tiny little pieces.

Should that discourage me? Yes, but next year let’s try it all again.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Mo