Each New Year’s Eve, more than two million revelers — twice as many as typically fill Times Square — dress in white and pack Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro to watch a 15-minute midnight fireworks extravaganza.
The one-night hedonistic release is one of the world’s largest New Year’s celebrations and leaves Copacabana’s famed 2.4 miles of sand strewed with trash.
But it began as something far more spiritual.
In the 1950s, followers of an Afro-Brazilian religion, Umbanda, began congregating on Copacabana on New Year’s Eve to make offerings to their goddess of the sea, Iemanjá, and ask for good fortune in the year ahead.
It quickly became one of the holiest moments of the year for followers of a cluster of Afro-Brazilian religions that have roots in slavery, worship an array of deities and have long faced prejudice in Brazil.
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