New Year’s in Rio De Janeiro was an enlightening experience. Instead of paying for overpriced admission to a cramped nightclub, I celebrated the new year on the beach, under a canopy of stars and fireworks as I joined the people of Brazil in making offerings to Lemanja, the Goddess of the Sea.
Lemanja (or Yemanja) is a pagan goddess, a remnant of the Yoruba religion that came to Brazil from Africa. Lemanja is the goddess of the ocean, a symbol of motherhood and the protector of children.
At sunset, hundreds dressed in white gathered at the water’s edge to give offerings to Lemanja, including rice, cakes, and candles that float to the sea on little paper boats. If the gifts do not return with the shore, they are considered to be accepted by the goddess and she will grant the people’s wishes for the New Year. Again, at the stroke of midnight, more offerings were made, as everyone (including me!) threw white gladiola flowers into the ocean for the goddess in hopes of having their wishes comes true. I currently wear a yellow string blessed by the Saint of Bahia in Brazil. In the customary tradition, I tied three knots and made three wishes. As a result of all these rituals, I am keenly aware of what my hopes are for this coming year, and I’m doing everything in my power to make these desires come true.