October 12 is "children's day" in Brazil, a national holiday. I find it so uniquely beautiful and Brazilian to have an entire day devoted to children having fun, and parents partying along with them. This year it fell on a Wednesday and without missing a beat the city turned into one big party -- the beaches were crowded, children jumping in the ocean and doing capoeira on the sand, the plazas were filled with music and drinking, everywhere I went children were playing and laughing, eating sweets and smiling. I said to a few little girls on our street "Happy Children's Day!" and they replied with the biggest smile and in unison exclaimed, "Thank yooou!!!". It was just adorable. Later in the day I asked another boy if he was "enjoying his day" and he instantly replied, "I am having SO much fun". I haven't spent a Christmas here, but it almost seems better than that. Groups and organizations give out free food, candy and toys to children everywhere, and in surprising abundance given the usual scarcity in Brazil, especially these days. I felt like it would truly be wrong to skimp on this particular day, in which kids deserve to forget any problems they have at home or in their lives, and just run around crazy on the streets, hyped on sugar. It felt a lot like Halloween, but without the creepy costumes.
Terreiros celebrate Children's Day as well, and they do so with a special child spirit, called "erês". There's a short ceremony for the erês, accompanied by the usual drumming and circular formation for them to arrive, and the possessed people dance and act child-like, erratic, fussy, giddy, both upset and jubilant. I went to a ceremony in a peripheral neighborhood of Salvador, and when we arrived in the back streets everybody was partying in bars, near cars, in front of their houses, on the street. We ran into a group of people who were drunk and oblivious to moving to let us pass by and go down the steep hill to the terreiro, but when they finally noticed us (despite the bright headlights shining on them for a minute or so) they let us pass with drunken smiles. When we arrived at the entrance of the terreiro, children were sprinting down the stairs and a tired mother lagged behind. They were playing some sort of tag game, running up and down the stairs as us adults slowly made our way down. The barracão (main ritual room) was filled with children and their parents, the majority of whom appeared to be from the nearby neighborhood. When we arrived the priest and members of the house were giving out tons of toys from huge sacs (like Santa Clause?), children were running around the barracão, mothers were holding onto the excess toys, seated and watching their kids receive and play. All of this is for free; the terreiro asks nothing in return. I noticed that the toys were mostly plastic, and the dolls mostly white. The kids were undeniably happy, and I saw very little fighting.
It was clear that these children rarely get toys, probably because their parents rarely have enough money to buy them. It was confirmed by other party-goers that the party for Children's Day is always like this at that particular terreiro, and the decorations of balloons, dolls, the variety of gifts, sweets and huge plates of food made it clear that the terreiro is a place of abundance. In order to properly serve the gods, the terreiro needs resources at its disposal. Food can never be scarce. So I get the impression that those who are really in need appreciate the terreiro for its ability to not only function, but to have enough leftover to give to others (whether the gods, visitors, scholars or the surrounding community). In this way, Candomblé is selfless in its material resources, or at least those houses that have enough to invite other people and publicize their event. Today made it clear to me that terreiros serve as charity organizations, and perhaps of course, as so do other types of churches and religious institutions.
At some moments during the party the drums played, the erê's danced and it turned into a candomblé ceremony. But the change of pace seemed irrelevant for anyone there, especially the children. I wondered what it would be like to grow up in that kind of environment, to watch spirits dancing, to clap for them, to eat in their honor and to not think anything of it. At one point I saw someone I had previously met at that terreiro and I gave her a little hand wave, but I think she was incorporated as an erê. She appeared to have smeared lipstick over her mouth, her hair was wild, curly and undone. To reply to my wave she gave me a silly grin, realizing that she knew me, and exclaimed "oooh, it's her!". But as she was finishing, the drums played and she suddenly keeled over and her shoulders twitched and shivered as happens when the spirit feels the need to dance and be part of the ritual. A woman egged her into the barracão to join the ceremony, and I left feeling happily greeted by a somewhat drunk and giddy erê.