Let us start with how gift-giving traditions in Portugal are. Everyone, including kids, enjoy Christmas since they believe this is festive of receiving gifts. Portuguese have different beliefs regarding the Christmas day.
Some people believe that the kids receive Christmas gifts from Father Christmas, while others believe that baby Jesus brings the gifts. The awards are put under the Christmas tree or near fireplace if the family has one.
The gift opening celebration is done in two phases:
Some families open part of the gifts after attending the midnight mass, and the rest in the morning, while others open them when they wake up.
Portuguese’s kids believe that the rewards are brought by baby Jesus when they are not around.
Thus, parents come up with tactics of putting the presents under the tree without the kids noticing it. This is usually done before the kids get back home from attending the mass.
The parents wake up earlier and put the presents under the tree with a nativity scene of baby Jesus.
So, when the kids come back home, the first thing they go to check if there is a baby Jesus Nativity scene and gifts.
The Christmas feast and meals in Portugal
The Portuguese celebrate Christmas with lots of feasting. They have special meals that the families prepare during Christmas time.
Some of the famous foods include; Consoada made during the evening of Christmas eve.
The meal consists of codfish accompanied with green vegetables, and boiled potatoes. Other than this, they also make other meals like shellfish, wild meats, and other unique foods.
There is no limit to feasting during Christmas as there is plenty of food to expect from the Portuguese.
They set up a unique table referred to as the Rich table in the living room where they serve different traditional foods.
Some of the meals served at the Rich table are the cakes, fried cookies, nuts, and other sweet foods.
They also enjoy turkey, which is the current signature delicacy, unlike before, where the people from different regions opted for various meats.
The people from the northern part preferred goat and lamp while the southern part opted for pork.
But now all the people of Portuguese prefer turkey as their signature traditional meat.
The people of Portuguese enjoy desserts, although they are prepared differently based on the financial classes and the regions.
Sugary egg yolks made in the shape of a fish are common in the Northern parts which are occupied by the rich, while ordinary people prefer rice pudding, French toast, and fried dough with different flavors.
The Christmas cake referred to as “Bolo Rei” in Portuguese, ( King Cake) is quite common. It is baked and placed in the middle of the serving table.
The cake is quite significant as they incorporate some games inside it. As it has been their custom, they add a broad bean and other broken pieces inside the cake while baking.
If you get the portion of the seed, you get to keep it, but if you find the broad bean, you will have to pay for the next Rich cake.
The party is wrapped up with the drinking of traditional wines, biscuits, and sweets.
The Christmas mass
The Christmas mass in Portugal is usually attended after they had their meals. The ceremony is referred to as mass of the Rooster or Missa do Galo in Portuguese.
A lot of activities occur during the celebration, which is performed by all people. They celebrate the birth of Jesus by bringing out an image of baby Jesus.
The statue of Jesus is put in front where all the church members queue to go and see the baby and kiss it.
Ones the mass is finished, people embark to their houses to open their gifts.
The Christmas tree
In early days, Portuguese did not celebrate Christmas with a tree, they introduced Christmas tree from the 1970s, and this custom is still on.
However, they have always had the nativity scene of baby Jesus ever since they began to celebrate his birth.
Thus, this has always been their custom during the Christmas festivals. The scenes sizes differ depending on the ‘families’ financial ability.
Some families buy large nativity while others only opt for a small scene with Jesus family and some animals.
Those who can afford large scene choose to have other characters such as the holy family, the animals, Wise men, shepherds farmers, and many others.
Also, note that some families opt to make their scenes an activity done by a kid using the moss.
Where to buy the Nativity scene
There are various places you can access these scenes in Portugal. Some shops and clubs specialize in making them with up to 100 figures, and other materials such as the waterfalls, windmills lights and rotates.
The traditions and customs of celebrating Christmas in Portugal
Christmas is one of the events that bring the families together. Each region has its unique traditions of celebrating the birth of Jesus.
In Penamacor, they have a tradition referred to as Christmas Madeiro which takes place on the eve of Christmas although some changes were made since 2004.
This celebration required all the young men to force the military to go round stealing trees to build the tallest fire in the church.
Although the compulsory practice was stopped, they still celebrate Christmas by lighting up a fire. The fireplace is where the families meet with their friends and other people in the neighborhood to catch up and bond.
The fire is believed to warm the feet of baby Jesus and is lit before the midnight mass.
After Christmas, the first week of January consist of another celebration. During this time, there are groups of singers who go round the houses, singing January carols. You have to open for them and offer them food and drinks.
These singers move around carrying baby Jesus in the manger. If you open and offer them food, they sing songs to thank and praise you, but if you fail, they will sing mockery songs.
In Portuguese Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Natal’ or you can use ‘Feliz Natal e um feliz ano novo’ for ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. It is interesting to know how people wish Happy or Merry Christmas in other languages.
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Main Points About Christmas in Portugal
- Nativity scenes are the most common decorations in Portugal.
- Many families attend the Missa do Galo (Mass of the Roosters). At the end of the church service, the congregation waits their turn to kiss the baby Jesus figurine.
- Consoada (the Christmas dinner) takes place on Christmas eve. The Portuguese national dish bacalhau is often the most preferred option.
- At the center of the Christmas, the meal table is Bolo Rei (King cake) the traditional Christmas cake.
- A broad bean and token are always hidden in the cake. The person who finds the token keeps it, but the person who finds the broad bean pays for the next year’s Bolo Rei.
Another country where nativity scenes are popular and Baby Jesus gives the presents, left in shoes instead of stockings and received after Midnight Mass.
Another unique and funny tradition is that people gather around in a certain place to eat bananas and drink Muscatel in the town of Braga.
Being a Catholic country, meat isn’t served on Christmas and fish is typically what you will have for the main Christmas meal on the 24th.
Word Cloud for Christmas in Portugal
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in Portugal. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.