"Blu" Fireworks for Copacabana and White Flowers for Iemanja

Thousands of people gather on Ipanema Beach

Thousands of people gather on Ipanema Beach

Tourists from all over the world have flocked to Rio de Janeiro to participate in the city's world renowned New Year's celebration. Hotels are at capacity, restaurants are packed and the sandy oceanfront has disappeared in a sea of umbrellas and sarongs. According to local officials, 2.3 million people are expected to gather on Copacabana Beach to watch the sixteen-minute fireworks display. The "inspiration" for this year's pyrotechnic spectacle: the upcoming animated feature "Rio 2."

The theme has been promoted throughout Rio with large posters on bridges and buses depicting the film's feathered characters. The mayor's office announced the show would open with at least a minute of blue, in honor of the  protagonist "Blu." A beachside concert will also include performances by Carlinhos Brown, one of the artists on the movie's' soundtrack. Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am (who is the voice of one of the "Rio 2" birds) was also expected to perform, but dropped out last week due to "contract issues."

While the "Rio" franchise has been credited with promoting the city to a worldwide audience, using the 20th Century Fox film as the theme for this particular Réveillon celebration seems like a strange choice. Critics accused mayor Eduardo Paes and the Riotur office of accepting money from the American studio, a claim the city has denied.

I would have thought 2014 would be received with the country's iconic yellow and green. This is the year we have all been waiting for, when both Rio and Brazil will feel the glow of the limelight as the hosts of the FIFA World Cup. 

Worshippers carry offerings for Iemanja in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

Worshippers carry offerings for Iemanja in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro

Over the weekend, hundreds of people gathered near the Copacabana Palace to honor the Afro-Brazilian Goddess Iemanjá. Candomblé worshippers and other enthusiasts carried a 2-meter statue of the beautiful deity throughout the city, before releasing her into the sea with offerings of white flowers and perfumes and with wishes for the new year written on paper and attached to small wooden boats. Although she is officially the protector of fishermen and naval voyages, she has become a matriarch for this city of 6 million people. 

2014 promises to  bring many challenges to both Rio and Brazil.  The country's once booming economy has weakened with inflation and devaluation, airports and stadiums in some of the twelve host cities are behind scheduled and protestors unsatisfied with the status quo planned to continue to make their voices heard. In addition to the World Cup, this will also be an election year. As President Dilma Rousseff campaigns for a second term, the corruption scandals rocking her party and administration will be under the global microscope. 

But today, those of us in Rio will bleach our sorrows away and dress in white. We will cheer on the blue light show and toss our floral offerings into the sea hoping the female orixá brings peace and prosperity for the Cidade Maravilhosa.