This year Christmas may be a little different however, it seems that most traditions here in Portugal have been kept — albeit with slight differences to allow for social distancing etc.
Christmas in Portugal is celebrated on Christmas Eve, as it is throughout Europe, with presents brought by Pai Natal (Father Christmas) or by baby Jesus and which are usually given after eating dinner (always in the evening).
The traditional meal is called Consoada and usually consists of bacalhau (salted cod) served with boiled potatoes and green vegetables followed by shellfish dishes and dessert.
The word Consoada derives from the Latin word consolare which means “to comfort”.
Desserts include Sonhos (choux pastry puffs), Rabanadas (French toast), Pasteis de Nata (custard tarts) and Aletria (similar to rice pudding but made with capellini).
Fish or seafood is usually served on Christmas Eve with meat dishes being eaten on Christmas Day.
Traditions do differ throughout Portugal, as they do in most countries. For example, in Braga a recent tradition (just 40 years or so old) sees friends getting together on Christmas Eve at a tavern called Casa das Bananas, or Bananeiro, which was an old fruit warehouse. Here they enjoy a glass of Moscatel together with a banana!
Other traditions include single young men wearing masks and generally making a lot of noise visiting peoples’ homes in a trick or treat manner (Trás-os-Montes). Cutting, transporting and erecting a huge Christmas tree (Guimarães). Climbing the church tower and throwing chestnuts down to the bonfire below (Aldeia Viçosa) and decorating a centuries-old, 50 metre-high tree in one night (Viana do Castelo).
The Bolo Rei is found onsale throughout the Christmas season and is generally available until Janaury 6, King’s Day (Epiphany). It is a round cake with a hole in the middle resembling a crown and is baked using a white dough, nuts, raisins and crystallised fruit. It is usually covered in crystallised fruit and may well have a dried fava (broad bean) inside – whoever gets the bean has to buy next year’s cake.
Throughout Portugal presépios are built and can be visited by the public. These nativity scenes can be quite grand or amateurish and you will often find a “trail” locally to enjoy them.
This year’s largest nativity scene in Portugal is situated in Vila Real de Santo António, the Algarve town bordering Spain.
The exhibition has over 80 animated pieces, four lakes and over 8,000 figurines. It took 40 days to build and covers around 230 square metres.
Open until January 6, visitors will find the nativity scene at the Centro Cultural António Aleixo which is open from 10am to 1pm and 2.30pm until 7pm. The entrance fee is just 50cents. For more information on the town and its activities click here.