Christmas is now only one month away and we’re looking forward to all our festive traditions. This got us to wondering how Christmas traditions differ around the world. So, each week we’ve been discovering how Christmas is celebrated in different countries in Europe. Last week we looked at the tradition of Christmas in Spain and this week we’re focusing on Portugal.
Like in Spain, Christmas is a very religious affair in Portugal with many families creating elaborate nativity scenes in their homes and attending church.
The main Christmas meal in Portugal is eaten for lunch on Christmas Eve and traditionally includes salt cod, boiled potatoes and other vegetables. For dessert, the Portuguese serve a circular shaped sweet bread, filled with crystallised fruit and nuts called Bolo-Rei or King Cake, which takes centre place on the table.
The Christmas Eve celebrations usually last well into the night and after they have finished the whole family will attend church for the Missa do Galo or Mass of the Rooster. In the regions of Bragança, Guarda or Castelo Branco, a Yule log is burned in the atrium of the village church after mass. This helps keep everyone warm through the night and is there to wish family and friends a Merry Christmas. Sometimes families will burn a log in their homes too, which you are supposed to keep burning until Christmas Day. The Christmas log is known as Cepo de Natal.
Traditionally Portuguese children used to receive their presents on the morning of the 6 January, from The Three Wise Men or Three Kings as they are sometimes called. On the eve of the 5 January they would leave their shoes at the window sill filled with straw and carrots of the Wise Men’s horses, which they would replace this with presents in return. Nowadays, however most Portuguese children believe in Pai Natal, the Portuguese word for Father Christmas, and usually receive their gifts from him on Christmas Eve after they return from Mass. Some even say that the baby Jesus helps Santa Claus to deliver the presents.
On Christmas Day morning, another feast is held called the consoda, where extra places are set for the alminhas a penar or the souls of the dead. In some places people still scatter crumbs on the hearth for the dead souls, which is supposed to bring them a good harvest for the next year. Other Christmas treats eaten on Christmas Day include rabandas, which are white bread pieces dipped in eggs and wine, then covered in sugar and fried until they become crispy.
So, if you’re heading to Portugal this Christmas or just fancy celebrating the Portuguese way this year, then you’ll be well prepared. Next week we’ll be looking at how Christmas is celebrated in Latvia.