Wigilia, Christmas Eve Supper
This meal, which features several types of fish, begins when the first star appears in the evening sky. (Children are sent outside to keep watch.) The host gives everyone a piece of the oplatek, a paper-thin wafer embossed with a Nativity scene, then guests break off pieces to give one another, offering a wish in the process. An empty seat is left to welcome a stranger who would otherwise be alone (and to symbolically invite Jesus, the birthday boy, to the table).
The essence: Oplatek wishes are a chance to settle any misunderstandings that may have accumulated during the past year.
New Year's Eve on the Beach
Brazilians dress in white and gather by the ocean to honor the passing year and welcome the next. In Rio de Janeiro, revelers light candles, watch a fireworks display, and throw flowers into the ocean as an offering to Yemanja, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the seas, who represents abundance, safety, and fertility.
The essence: White garments symbolize purity and prosperity. In this ultra-multicultural country, people gather to celebrate the communal spirit and the desire for social harmony.