By Isabela Carrozza Joia
On New Year’s Day, there are thousands of traditions worldwide. One of my favorites is the one we do in Brazil. Influenced by Afro Brazilian religions, such as Umbanda and Candomblé,1 we usually wear white in the evening, as a way to symbolize rebirth and harmony. In my view, it is also a way of seeing how the next year, the next chapter, is similarly blank and unknown.
My favorite part comes at the beach, if you have the chance to be near one when the clock strikes midnight. Although it is dark, you can see everybody waiting on the sand for the fireworks. It is an amazing feeling. Expectation. Delight. Joy. Happiness.
But here comes the best, and under the influence of Umbanda as well:
When midnight comes and the fireworks light up the sky, you run to the sea. But why?, you might ask. To jump, one for each of the first seven waves that come, and to make a wish each time for what you want for the new year. It is a tribute to Iemanjá, an Orisha of the sea and water. It is a ritual aimed at wishing for the best moments in the coming year, and for letting old problems go with the cycle which ends that night.
Jumping those waves really have this feeling. When you look around, you can see many doing the same thing. They are children, adults, and elderly. Some even offer flowers and candles to the sea, a gift to Iemanjá. I see this tradition as something that unites everybody under one thing and one thing only: hope. Hope for new beginnings and new possibilities. For this new year, I even made a list of wishes for every wave. Weird, I know. But I didn’t want to “waste” a wave with a stupid wish, or even to forget something important for my upcoming year.
Needless to say that in any of my wishes or dreams for 2020, I never expected 2020 to be like what it has been so far. I keep trying to remember all the facts and happenings that have occurred since January, and it is exhausting. Actually, it is surreal. It feels like a movie in which the apocalyptic met a dystopian world: So-close but yet not-so close to World War III. A Global Pandemic. A cloud of grasshoppers in South America. Giant and deadly bugs in the US. NASA confirming the UFO’s images. Protests happening around the world for the right to not use masks to protect from the deadly virus. What is going on?
In the middle of this mess, I woke up one day on one side of the world and went to sleep on the other side of it. One day, I was diving into my studies and enjoying my time in Geneva. On the next, I was struck by the possibility of quarantine and worried by the uncertainty while away from my family. I took the first flight back home. What a way to say that your expectations will never match reality. In fact, disappointments will come every single time.
In the following months, I kept remembering my New Year’s Eve, and the wishes and hopes I had had then. I thought about that idea of wishing for the best moments and letting the others behind. Where was my list with my wishes anyway? Why did it matter? To have everything written down, to have plans and expectations, to follow traditions, just to see it taken out in a matter of days.
From March to June, I just kept going with the flow. Fulfilling my time with classes that woke me up at 5am, cleaning my groceries and staying home, browsing social media with half of the people posting messages like “hold on, we are in all of this together! You can do it!”, and the other half sharing that week’s awful news.
It took me a while, but I realized that although my expectations were not going to be fulfilled, it was the traditions that kept me going. I found myself spending all of my days with my family, something that I have not done for the past seven years. We had lunch and dinner together. We shared our worries and laughed about funny stories. We sat on weekends to watch movies and series together, and on week-days we worked on our personal projects, while sharing how lucky we were to be able to spend this troubled time together.
The New Year’s Eve memory then changed. I remembered that I was not happy because I jumped for some silly waves and made my wishes for the next year. The joy was because I was with my family and celebrating our time together. It was about the little things. About how we spent our last days of 2019 on the beach, laughing, playing around, having some ice cream and imagining together our plans for 2020.
2020 might be a surreal year, filled with many bad occurrences, disappointments and sadness. But it is also a year which forced us all to slow down and to reflect upon our own lives. To contemplate what is important to us and to remind ourselves that with expectations, comes disappointment. But instead of being seen as such, remember that they are new chances to enjoy life. It is the little moments that will get you smiling on a Sunday afternoon. In a way, I got what I wished.
I said goodbye once again to my family and friends back home when I moved back to Geneva. But this time, I came back with a warmer heart. Even if the year does not go as I expect or imagine, I still have my memories and traditions to hold on to.
1 Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion brought to Brazil by African slaves, whereas Umbanda is a Brazilian religion which has Catholicism, Spiritism and Afro-Brazilian elements to its values and rituals. Both religions believe in “Orixás”, which to Candomblé are the deities responsible for caring and balancing our energies, whereas to Umbanda they are ancestral spirits that represent a single God. The New Year’s Eve traditions in Brazil hold elements from both religions. Wearing white comes from Candomblé, and it was diffused in the country from 1970, when, legend tells, people noticed and admired Candomblé members wearing white and making offers to the sea in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach. Jumping the seven waves has its origins in Umbanda, which upholds the belief that seven is a cabalistic number that represents the Orixá Exu, Iemanjá’s son, the Orixá of the sea and water.
Art by Urvashi Dinkar