It’s that time of year once again, and yet it looks completely different from where I am standing. The sun is shining, it is ninety-eight degrees outside, everything is green and lively, and the sun doesn’t set until the evening, and not to mention the other volunteers and I spent the day before Christmas Eve relaxing on Ipanema Beach. While the holiday season might be a completely different experience for me in Rio, I’ve nevertheless had the opportunity to share Christmas joy with those around me.
For several months I have been working closely with an artist who runs her studio, Retalhos Cariocas, primarily out of Bairro do Vasco, a favela located in Rio’s North Zone that approximately 15,000 Caricoas call home. Over the past few months I have worked with Silvinha to plan, create, and assemble her works of all different sorts as well as assisted her in hosting events to showcase her work. While all of this work has been extremely rewarding, I’m not sure I was more proud or fulfilled with our work than what I was this week. A few weeks ago Silvinha was invited by one of the biggest fashion retailers in Rio to participate in an art showcase at the international airport. Their task was to create an original Christmas tree design that would be featured in the airport until after Christmas. So with less than a week until the deadline, Silvinha and I sat down at the big wooden table in her shop and began to create. At the end of the week, we were at the airport, assembling a multifaceted tree that incorporates designs and pieces that I made on my very first day working with Retalhos Cariocas. Not only did I think her work was beautiful and deserving of the opportunity it was receiving but I was so honored to be a part of the creative process. It was truly astounding.
This week we were also able to hold a Christmas party for the kids at Emarca. Christmas parties are tradition at home and its nothing short of the same in Rio either. We made christmas cookies and santa crafts, ate delicious Brazilian food and cakes, and sang along to Christmas carols in Portuguese. Even being so far from home, and so long away from my own grade school holiday celebrations, I remember feeling such a sense of nostalgia, peace, and wholeness when celebrating with the kids and adults I have worked with for the last several months.
My Christmas in Rio has been nothing short of amazing. I won’t lie- I miss the Christmas Eve shopping tradition my dad and I have every year. I crave my mother’s chocolate chip Christmas cookie bars. I miss my brother’s dry jokes and lack of Christmas spirit. I miss the warm Christmas heart my best friend has every year, despite the fact that Christmas is very hard for her. But, as I sit here and write, I think back to the grocery shopping extravaganza the other volunteers and I had yesterday for Christmas dinner, I smell pies and cookies baking in the oven, I enjoy the company of all the wonderful friends I have made, and I welcome in the new traditions of a new year, of a new experience, and a new time.