By tradition, on the night of December 31st, more than two million people congregate on the sands at the Copacabana beach to welcome the New Year. The Copacabana réveillon public party, with its open air music shows, its extraordinary atmosphere and its magniﬁcent midnight ﬁreworks spectacle has, for good reasons, become the sort of event considered to be one that every traveler should experience at least once in a lifetime.
On this night Cariocas (natives of Rio) opt to concern themselves almost exclusively with the now, to some extent with the future, but decisively not with the past. Thinking about the past, about yesterday, or about the day before yesterday on the eve of the new year, is generally believed to bring bad karma. On this night no one in Rio wants to think about the deplorable state of public health and education, the growing inﬂation, or the endemic corruption of politicians. No one wants to think about the resurgence of petty crime, the violence, the ubiquitous muscle of crime lords, the brutality of a trigger-happy police, or the enduring problems in the not quite “paciﬁed” favelas (shanty towns).
No, this is yesterday’s woe. Tonight is the beginning of a new year and Cariocas need to believe that the coming days will bring less and better news. Tonight they are dressed in customary white to symbolize peace and spiritual puriﬁcation. They go to the beach, they make resolutions, they pray to their personal gods and deities, and, religious afﬁliation notwithstanding, they all toss white ﬂowers, jewelry and perfume into the water to pay homage to Iemanja the African ocean goddess and the unofﬁcial patron saint of Rio. At almost midnight they join the chorus of the countdown, and at the stroke of midnight they open bottles of champagne, hug and kiss friends and total strangers, and continue partying. Taking advantage of the night they can dream even impossible dreams. Tomorrow it will again be the day after today, perhaps it will be a sunny “beach day”, and this is almost enough.
I often notice that many people on the beach seem to have tears in their eyes on that midnight. Perhaps they are overtaken by the emotion of turning back to the zero mark, of starting anew, of being at the exact point where the future begins. Without a doubt almost everyone realizes that this is but make-belief, and that the morning after the sleepless night always presents the familiar aching muscles, hangover, and the clarity that all is the same, that things do not change just because we pass from one year to another. On the morning after we face the same personal dilemmas, anxieties and obligations, the same aches and pains. The same motivation for getting up each morning returns – the delightful, the boring, the pleasant, the frustrating, and the blissful. But we are all incorrigible: just like we’ve always done in the past at the turning of the new year, we repeat the ritual of magical thinking even if it lasts but one night.