No matter where you are, Christmas is the time of celebration and each and every country has its unique way of going about it; Portugal is no different. Being a Catholic dominant country, it is no wonder that Christmas is the greatest festival in the country. Decoration, gifts, feast, mass, everything related to Christmas is celebrated with great fun and passion. People, especially children, are most excited to welcome Christmas and the ensuing festivities. They decorate their homes with sweet little ideas to celebrate the birth of the son of God. Despite the piercing cold, people do everything that is possible to make every moment of this festival joyous and memorable. The customs are such that everyone is in a jubilant mood befitting the occasion. There is something special about Christmas celebration in Portugal, particularly the traditional foods served at the feasts. Read on to know more on how Christmas is celebrated in Portugal.
Christmas Traditions In Portugal
Making creche is a major Christmas tradition in Portugal. The creche is a scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable in Bethlehem. Some people display the three main characters, namely Joseph, Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, whereas some others create an elaborate scene with other characters like the three Wise Men, shepherds, sheep, angels and beautiful landscapes with replicas of hills and river.
During the Christmas season, the entire country dons a festive spirit, with streets and houses lavishly decorated. During this time, there is a special tradition of keeping a log of oak known as "Cepo de Natal" (Christmas log) on the blazing hearth.
As in any other countries, Christmas in Portugal also hinges on the ritual of gift-giving, the most important part of the celebrations. This is done to continue the tradition of the three Wise Men who brought gifts for the infant Jesus. Interestingly, this gift-giving tradition is carried out in a special way. On the Epiphany Eve, i.e. on 5th January, children fill their shoes with straw and carrots to attract the horses of the three Wise Men, who, they believe, have lots of gifts with them. Next morning, with great enthusiasm, they collect their gifts which usually consist of candies, fruits, sweet breads and other goodies.
The Christmas feast, known as "Consoda", takes place in the morning. One thing which is special about this feast is the extra places left for 'alminhas a penar' ("the souls of the dead"). Some people also leave crumbs for the dead on the hearth. This is an extension of an ancient tradition of offering seeds to the souls, so that they, in return, give bounteous harvest and prosperity.
Midnight Mass or the "Missa Do Galo" is an important religious event on the Christmas Eve, in which the whole family actively participates. This is followed by a great feast called "Ceia de Natal". The traditional feast consists of cod-fish with potatoes and cabbage. Traditional desserts like "filhos"-made of pumpkin-and "alteria" (cakes) are also served. "Bolo Rei" is another traditional dessert, the highlight of which is two surprises hidden in it. One is a gift and another is a bean. The person who gets the bean has to buy "Bolo Rei" in the coming year.
Christmas day is usually celebrated by singing carols called "Janeiras" and this usually goes on till January 6th, which is considered to be the end of the festival season. On this day, the elaborate lunch is replete with stuffed turkey and traditional desserts. People enjoy traditional drinks like Porto wine and eat "azevias" and "felhozes".
Christmas is a major celebration in Portugal where majority of the population are Christians. People celebrate the birthday of their Lord with songs and good food. Carols and Christmas greetings fill the atmosphere with goodwill and bliss.
Read about Christmas and its traditions in Portugal and Portuguese Christmas customs.