Another major religious festival marks the Brazilian calendar between Christmas and Carnival: the feast of Our Lady of Navigators (evotional title given to the Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics) or the orisha Yemanja, celebrated on February 2nd.
Palpable evidence of religious syncretism, the festival is celebrated especially in harbor cities, like the regional capitals Porto Alegre and Salvador. In both metropolises, the 2th of February is a municipal holiday, which allows thousands of devotees to participate in the processions, by land or sea, thanking for the graces received and asking for further protection.
According to the Christian religion February 2nd was the first day Jesus visited a temple. Mary would led him, obeying the religious rules of that time, which required mothers to attend the temple 40 days after the birth of their child, as a sacrifice offered to obtain purification. That’s why Virgin Mary is honored on this date.
Due to the presence of the Spanish and Portuguese, this tradition of honoring the Virgin arrived in Brazil. The deeply Catholic Lusitania and Spanish used to invoke the Holy Mary to guide them before travelling through the sea. And so they spread the commemorative day in honor of Mary in all places where they had influence.
In Brazil, the African influence of Umbanda has brought a unique character to the Catholic party, mixing both religions. Yemanja, the mother of deities according to Umbanda, is also the Queen of the waters. Represented by a mermaid, it’s invoked as the protector of those who deal with the sea, playing a role similar to Our Lady of Navigators for Catholics.
In Umbanda tradition, however, the tribute is made in a slightly different way. Yemanja is very conceited and likes to receive gifts related to beauty (as mirrors and perfumes, for example). To please her, then, the devotees put their wishes, offers and requests in baskets, which are then thrown overboard.
During the festivity, different traditions and religions are often mixed. It’s not uncommon to find someone participating in both celebrations. Sometimes the one who takes part in the procession or the mass in honor of Our Lady of Navigators, gives Yemanja offers as well. For many faithful Brazilians, more important than choosing to follow only one religion or another is to thank Virgin Mary or Yemanja at all.