Christmas is celebrated in different ways all over the world. Although more and more countries are adopting the American traditions that we see in the movies, some lovely traditions remain. Here are some of the special Portuguese Christmas traditions that you will still find going on in homes all over Portugal.
Father Christmas is called Pai Natal and with Baby Jesus’s help he leaves all the presents in shoes that people leave by the fireplace as well as under the Christmas tree.
The traditional meal is normally eaten on Christmas Eve, and is usually codfish with greens and potatoes, although any expensive special food will go down a treat too!
After dinner, people go to church for the Missa do Galo, (Cockerel’s Mass) a bit like our midnight mass. During the mass, the priest brings out the baby Jesus and places him in the nativity scene called a presépio. When they get home, and somebody has sneakily remembered to put baby Jesus in the nativity scene at home and the presents in the shoes, all the children run to see if Santa and Jesus have left them some presents! Normally they open a few that night and leave the rest for the following morning.
Here we make a big deal of decorating our Christmas tree, in Portugal families make a big deal of decorating their nativity scenes, with many characters, animals and they even go out to collect real moss and straw!
Now we seem to go crazy for mince pies at Christmas, the Portuguese go wild for all sorts of cakes and sweets. Each region has its own selection, which range from arroz com leite – rice pudding with cinnamon, rabanadas – like frech toast, and filhos which are fired dough with sugar and cinnamon. Many houses will have a whole table covered in these sweet and sticky delights!
The traditional Christmas cake is called the Bolo Rei, the King Cake, and is like a candied fruit cake. Traditionally a broad bean is hidden in the cake and the person who gets the slice with the broad bean has to pay for next year’s cake!
And that’s not all, the Christmas fun which is mainly lots of eating and drinking continues all the way into January, where people go from house to house with an image of baby Jesus, singing Janeiras (January) songs. They start with a song and then ask the owners of the house for some food or drink!! Apparently if you don’t open your door or your offerings of food and drink aren’t quite up to scratch the singers may start singing mocking songs at your door! You might think they’ve got confused with Halloween but maybe it’s a question of the chicken or the egg? Either way you can tell that the Portuguese know how to make the most of the festive season!
Merry Christmas or as they say in Portugal Feliz Natal!!