This is how Christmas was celebrated before industrialization
At the end of the year, Christmas is always a good opportunity to:
- gather the family,
- get the conversation up to date
- forgive past mistakes
- create new challenges
- and above all express gratitude and love one for another.
This is exactly how it was at my grandparents’ farm.
Rustic Christmas Decorations
Every year, in December, as soon as school was out—here in Brazil the school year ends in the middle of December—the kids would go to the farm. As always, it was a party!
The day to put together the Christmas tree was pure fun. We would go out to gather a good tree branch or a piece of a tree.
Since there is no snow in Brazil and there was no lighting technology at the time, we would cover the tree with cotton strips. My grandmother would buy from the town’s small store a few colored glass balls—of the thinnest glass one can find. We would hang the balls with a string which also served to tightened the branches.
After a few years, the Christmas tree adornments became more sophisticated. You could now find stars and other types of decorations to hang on the tree.
Traditional Christmas Meals
In the kitchen the abundance of food was always present. We had grilled pork, chicken, traditional turkey, my aunt’s famous Panettone, cakes, French toast (isn’t French toast delicious?) and a lot more.
On Christmas’ eve we had quite the table spread. One thing that always intrigued me, at the time I did not understand it well, was to watch the way my grandmother prepared the turkey. She gave the bird “cachaça” (a type of Brazilian whiskey) and let him wobble drunk through the backyard.
The kids would laugh out loud every time. Later I found out that there was a purpose to get the turkey drunk: to soften the meat. Here, let me tell you how it was done.
- For those who did not raise turkey, they would buy a live one two months before the end-of-the-year festivities. The women and the children took care of the bird in order to fatten it.
- We would daily feed it unrefined flour with unrefined sea salt and water. Truthfully, we force fed the bird a little bit, by putting the mixture in its beak and gently tapping its neck to help the food go down quicker.
- On the day before Christmas’ eve, after giving the bird a few extra meals, two people were in charge of giving it “whiskey.” One person held its wings and the other helped it drink.
- Afterwards, each person held onto one wing—one on the left and one on the right—and ran the turkey up and down so it would get very dizzy. We called this process “blind drunk turkey.”
- As soon as the bird was completely drunk, one of the adults would get a knife and a bowl filled with vinegar, and then cut the turkey’s head letting the blood drain inside the bowl. The bird was so drunk that it did not know what hit it.
- At this moment, there was already a large pan filled with boiling water, waiting. They would dip the bird and then remove the feathers until there were none left. They also removed the thin skin on the turkey’s feet.
- Afterwards, they would put it through the fire to remove the small feathers that did not come out with the hot water.
- My grandmother would then cut the turkey, remove all of its gizzards, wash it well and then season it with garlic, salt, pepper and orange juice.
- She would also prepare a delicious “farofa” (roughly ground yucca or cassava root flour) with sausage fried in garlic, onion, green pepper, fresh herbs, hard-boiled eggs and black pepper.
- After stuffing the turkey with this “farofa,” she would sew it, lather it with melted bacon and placed it inside the wooden stove where she watched the bird for an entire day, applying the extra sauce from the seasoning.
- She would turn the bird on one side and then another and at the end of the evening. The turkey would come out of the oven with a beautiful golden color and an aroma that left everyone anxious for dinner!
One interesting fact is that after my grandmother removed the turkey’s snood and wash it well. She would later give it to the boys who in turn placed the snood in the hot sun to dry. After a few days, they would fill the dried snood up with dirt and make it into a soccer ball.
Nívia Gomes is a Brazilian entrepreneur. She is an artist, an artisan, a baker, a chef, a writer, wife and mother of four. Nívia is a brilliant business woman, filled with wisdom from the past. Her stories inspire us and tell us of a time gone by. Nivea is a contributor to Living Health Magazine under the section called “Old-Folk Wisdom.”