RIO DE JANEIRO – Some two million people bade farewell to 2016 at Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro’s most famous beach, at a spectacular celebration, complete with musical concerts and a fireworks display, and where calls for peace were issued and the plight of Syrian refugees was remembered.
The traditional Reveillon celebration in Rio, which attracted some 865,000 tourists, lasted until the first light of day on Jan. 1, with no reported incidents amid an atmosphere of brotherhood despite the fact that Brazil is currently facing a serious economic and political crisis.
A woman and her son from Syria to whom Brazil granted refuge were those tasked with making the traditional plea for peace on the enormous stage set up for the musical performances.
Singer Elba Ramalho interrupted her presentation shortly after the New Year’s arrival to call Tamador Faher Aldden and her nine-year-old son Mohammad Zarba to the stage.
“They asked me to call to the stage people who need us. Our Brazil is a democratic country and welcomes people from the entire world. Aleppo is a destroyed (Syrian) city and many refugees are arriving. We’re going to open our hearts and our doors so that they can enter,” the singer told the assembled throng.
“Good evening to everyone,” the youngster greeted the crowd in Portuguese to deafening applause.
“I want to send a message to the children in Syria who are dying or are experiencing great hunger. The children who are dying don’t want to die. They have to live. Many thanks to the Brazilians who opened their hearts to us. Your hearts are very big,” Mohammad added.
Ramalho said that she had completed her mission to sow a seed. “My God is your God and is our God,” she added, calling for an end to religious intolerance.
The economic crisis forced Rio city authorities to curtail the traditional New Year’s fireworks show from 16 minutes down to 12 minutes, but the huge crowd on the beach applauded and shouted with emotion at the bright flashes and colors from a total of 18 tons of gunpowder and 21,000 rockets of Spanish manufacture launched from 11 rafts anchored at varying distances from the beach.
The culmination of the celebration was the musical show, with rousing performances by two of the city’s most popular samba schools: Mangueira and Unidos da Tijuca.