Easter in Brazil

Easter procession in Brazil.
Kevin Moloney/Getty Images

Brazil has one of the largest Catholic populations in the world. Holy Week - Semana Santa in Portuguese - is observed throughout the country with processions and rituals similar to those of other Catholic countries, yet made unique by the specific context in which they happen.

Some well known Holy Week events in Brazil include:

  • Procissão do Fogaréu in Goiás Velho, GO
  • Passion Play in Nova Jerusalém
  • Recife Passion Play

Brazil Easter Travel

In a secular approach to Holy Week, people will rush to the beach and other popular vacation areas in Brazil to take advantage of the holiday, which schools usually extend to the whole week.

Add to that the great volume of people traveling to destinations famous for traditional Catholic rituals and folks just looking to be with family for the holiday, and you're in for busy roads and airports, fully booked hotels and crowds.

Traditionally, hotels book Semana Santa in packages running from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Make reservations right after Carnival, if possible.

Some of the best-loved destinations in Brazil for those who seek to experience traditional Holy Week Catholicism are historic cities where processions take place on stone-paved or cobblestone streets and Mass is held in old churches.

Music for the Season

Paixão e Fé (Passion and Faith), a song by Tavinho Moura and Fernando Brant recorded by Milton Nascimento, poetically expresses the season's spiritual tone and describes the passage of a procession.

The song is part of the Clube da Esquina 2 album (1978).

Watch a Paixão e Fé video on YouTube, posted by Leo Ladeira to photos of Mariana and Ouro Preto, MG.

Important Catholic Holy Week Events

  • Procession and Mass on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos): Sunday before Easter. They commemorate Christ's arrival in Jerusalem, when palms were spread before Him as He rode into town on a donkey. Traditionally, people carry palms that are then blessed and taken home.
  • Lava-pés (Washing of the Feet): As Christ washed His apostles' feet, twelve people from various social classes have their feet washed by priests during a special mass on Holy Thursday.
  • Procissão do Encontro: Good Friday. Women carrying an image of Nossa Senhora das Dores (Virgin of Sorrows) meet a procession of men carrying Nosso Senhor dos Passos, an image of Christ burdened by His cross.
  • The descent of the Cross: Good Friday. Procession and Mass.
  • Canto da Verônica (Veronica's Chant): A strong tradition in Brazil, it is symbolic of the apocryphal passage according to which Veronica wiped Christ's face on the Via Dolorosa. Often sung during Procissão do Encontro.
  • Paschal Vigil (Vigília Pascal): A service held between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday, with the lighting of a new fire which will, in turn, light the Easter Candle, a symbol of Jesus Christ's light unto the world.
  • Festive Easter Sunday Procession and Mass

Travelers who don't have a sacred perception of Holy Week events can show respect in simple ways such as not wearing shorts or revealing clothing to rituals, or refraining from taking pictures inside churches.

Whether you're a devout Catholic or someone who simply seeks to experience local life in all of its nuances, Holy Week celebrations are one of your keys to a deeper knowledge of Brazil and its culture.

Carpets on the Streets

One of the most beautiful traditions in Holy Week is the decoration of streets for the Sunday procession. Many cities do it for Corpus Christi, but in Ouro Preto, for example, people create colorful carpets with wood shavings, flour, coffee, flowers and other elements the night before Sunday for the procession to walk on.

Easter Eggs

In Brazil, an Easter egg is, almost by definition, a chocolate egg. Supermarkets, which decorate a special aisle with a tunnel made of brightly wrapped Easter eggs by various brands; boutique chocolatiers; bakeries and pâtisseries all get busy and stock up as the country is swept by mass chocolate cravings in the weeks before Easter.

Some of the best known franchises selling fine Easter eggs in Brazil are Kopenhagen, founded in 1928, and Cacau Show.

Chocolate lovers can't go wrong with a visit to São Paulo during the Easter season. A wide array of high-end pâtisseries and chocolatiers make fine Easter eggs, including:

  • La Vie en Douce
  • Pati Piva at Daslu
  • Pâtisserie Douce France
  • Sweet Brazil

Jean et Marie, opened in March 2009, entered the São Paulo gourmet scene just in time for Easter.

Easter Around the World

Brazil, with its meeting of cultures, has several Easter traditions in common with other countries. Learn about some of the world's best Easter celebrations with TripSavvy.