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The iconic Copacabana beach is usually home to one of the world's largest New Year's Eve gatherings, attracting over 2 million people to its pristine white sands. This event traditionally features diverse musical performances and an extravagant fireworks display that typically illuminates the landscape of one of the city's most renowned tourist destinations. It has been a massive congregation, drawing people from all corners of the country and around the world. However, this year marks a departure from the norm.

With the onset of the second wave of Covid-19, infections are escalating daily. The local government, for the first time in history, decided to cancel the event, considered the pinnacle of the year. Measures to curb gatherings ranged from suspending public transport to implementing police blocks throughout the city. The vibrant hues that usually illuminate the beach have been replaced by the stark contrast between the white sand and the emptiness of the sky.

The celebration originated in the 1970s, initiated by practitioners of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion derived from traditional African cults. These practitioners, clad in white attire, would gather on the beach to pay homage to Yemanja, offering rituals by the sea. In Candomblé, white symbolizes mourning for death, signifying rebirth and the continuity of life.

In the 1980s, with growing interest from diverse social classes, hotels in the region joined the festivities, igniting fireworks from their rooftops. By the early '90s, leveraging the high tourist appeal, the local government expanded the celebration, enhancing the firework display and incorporating musical attractions to encourage longer stays on the beach. The inaugural event featured singer Rod Stewart and attracted over 3.5 million attendees.

Presently, the celebration mirrors the societal dynamics of a country like Brazil, with the elite observing from their lofty concrete structures while the masses below yearn for a better, if not fairer, life. Amidst the vast sea and sand, the real Brazil dreams collectively, aspiring to overcome historical disparities and construct a more equitable nation. However, not this year.

The personal photographic approach aimed to capture this historic moment, where even under stringent restrictions, certain characters braved the void. Individuals like Iran, who has been selling cotton candy for over 15 years, attended for strictly economic reasons. Similarly, Adelson, the caipirinha seller, found himself there. On another note, Herbert, living on the beach since the pandemic's onset due to rent challenges, contemplates the unique moment unfolding before him. Tourist couples seize the rare opportunity, and Jurandir, with his family from Rondônia, a northern state, finally visits the renowned beach. Additionally, the photographs document objects and moments that would typically be obscured within the sea of people.

This unprecedented Copacabana, with all its mystique and history, unfolds in a manner never witnessed before. For those who religiously attended this long-awaited day, like myself, it undoubtedly encapsulates a myriad of indescribable emotions that will linger in memory forever.

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