Gramado, in the region of Rio Grande do Sul State known as Serras Gaúchas, is Brazil's top Christmas wonderland. Natal Luz (Christmas of Light), in its 27th edition this year, is the country's largest Christmas event, drawing nearly 1.5 million visitors to the city with a population of less than 33,000.
I visited Gramado this holiday season and got to enjoy the best moments of Natal Luz: Nativitaten, the Fantastic Christmas Factory, and the Christmas Parade. This year, the festival has a special meaning to the town of Gramado, where locals are deeply involved in a sustainable effort which includes the clever revamping of each previous edition's floats and other decorations.
A fire earlier this year destroyed the pavilion where 2011 decorations were stored, but the town pitched in for recovery. For example, Rio de Janeiro-born artist João Daniel Meirelles Justo, aka Shock, who has experience creating decorations for Rio de Janeiro Carnival and adopted Gramado as his hometown years ago, used parts of street decorations to rebuild the Christmas tree which is the main focus of the city-wide lighting show every night. The tree is 9 meters tall - taller than last year's.
Nativitaten is the most intense of all Christmas of Light events. The show directed by Dilmar Messias and held at Joaquina Rita Bier Lake blends opera, fireworks, light and water shows, acrobatics, a 100-voice choir, tenors, sopranos, and musicians such as Yanto Laitano, who plays solo piano and chose the repertoire this year.
The opera is divided into five acts: Genesis, Annunciation, Birth, Epiphany and Glory. There are brief poetic texts in Portuguese, but music is what holds the show together, making it universally appealing; this year's repertoire includes Bachianas Brasileira No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana, Amazing Grace and Lennon's "Imagine".
In the Fantastic Christmas Factory, a play in eight acts by actress, producer and teacher Vika
Schabbach, a girl called Sofia and her doll are taken by an angel (flying over the audience) to the factory where toys come alive thanks to the power of belief. The show production and cast involves 90 professionals, including 40 dancers. Though the play is in Portuguese, including the songs, even young children enjoy the play: the three-year-old in front of me was ecstatic and dancing along throughout the hour-long performance.
Though there are seating areas along Avenida das Hortênsias, where the Christmas Parade takes place, it might be even better to choose standing room and sort of move with the show (artistic direction by Jezebel de Carli, production by Abramo Machado). Over 370 people participate in the parade.
Photos courtesy of Natal Luz. Photo of the Fantastic Christmas Factory by Cleiton Thiele_SerraPress.
The author visited Gramado and Natal Luz on a press trip by invitation of Festuris - the Gramado Tourism Festival. As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.