The Holiday Season in Portugal

Portugal has no official religion, but most of its population is Christian (81% Catholic). However, only about 19% attend mass and take the sacraments regularly. In Portugal, Church and State are formally separate, but the Catholic Institution still has a strong influence, especially for the older population.

xmas lisboaLike other parts of the world, holidays like o Natal Christmas have gradually transformed from being purely religious to being more commercialized, cultural holidays, especially for the younger generations. Despite the growing commercialization and consumerism of the holiday, it is still possible to find some old traditions, especially in as aldeias the small towns of Portugal.

In more recent years, the Portuguese have incorporated as árvores do Natal the Christmas trees and Santa Claus imagery in their homes. Parents tell their children that o menino Jesus the Baby Jesus helps Santa with as prendas the presents. Families still set up o presépio the nativity scene with Mary, Saint Joseph, the cow, donkey, the Three Kings, and baby Jesus. In the past, the Christmas tree was covered with chocolates, tied in a string. The figure of baby Jesus was only placed in o presépio after the family had attended a Missa do Galo the midnight mass Mass of the Rooster.

A Consoada Christmas Eve is the time when the the family gets together. For many families, this reunion can start days before, so everyone can pitch in with the preparations and cooking. You may find a Portuguese family using an embroidered linen tablecloth on the table passed down from previous generations, (and saved for special occasions), as well as using their finest plates, glasses, and velas candles.

bacalhau-batatasThe meal of the Consoada Christmas Eve usually consists of bacalhau codfish with potatoes, cabbage or green beans, all roasted in azeite olive oil. The second course consists of rice with boiled polvo octopus. Sweets are served as a sobremesa the dessert , accompanied by vinho do Porto Port wine. And speaking of desserts, there is usually a huge variety for the family to choose from, including:

arroz doce sweet rice with cinnamon
rabanadas french toast
broas de mel honey cakes
Bolo Rei King Cake

Later on, everyone gathers around to play games, or to share stories and conversation. In the past, the children would remove os pinhões the pine nuts from as pinhas the pinecones that had been baking in a lareira the fireplace. Traditionally, à meia-noite at midnight before going to bed, the children would leave a small shoe beside the lareira or a chaminé the chimney, so that the baby Jesus could leave one single, special present. Nowadays, the baby Jesus is replaced by Santa Claus, and the fireplace is replaced by the Christmas tree.

Children open presents from Santa on the morning of the 25th. As for the kids who don’t believe in Santa Claus, they open presents given to them by their family at midnight on Christmas Eve. In more religious families, adults go to a Missa do Galo the midnight mass Mass of the RoosterA Missa do Galo is celebrated at midnight, since according to tradition, that was the time Jesus was born. In Latin countries, this Mass is called the Mass of the Rooster, because a rooster sang at midnight, when Jesus was born.

On Christmas Day, Portuguese natives will usually visit friends and especially family. At lunch, it is common to eat a dish called a roupa velha the old clothes made with the leftovers from the night before. The rest of the day is spent as a family preparing for ceia de Natal Christmas dinnerO peru the turkey is an important part of the ceia de Natal, prepared as a roast. In some homes, the turkey is stuffed with puré de castanhas chestnut puree.  Of course, dessert is served once again with many more doces!

Traditionally, families would recognize the 6th of January, when os três reis magos The Three Kings arrived to visit baby Jesus. As the name implies, “o bolo Rei” is named after them.

o-bolo-reiThis cake is a crown-shaped cake filled with candied fruits and pinhões pine nuts. It also contains a fava a big bean hidden inside, and whoever finds it has to buy next year’s cake.

After Christmas until January 6th, Portuguese take to the streets, going from home to home singing as Janeiras the traditional January carols. These carols are meant to wish the audience good fortune and happiness in the Ano Novo New Year.

We hope that you get a chance to experience some of these traditions for yourself in Portugal!

Also make sure to check out New Year’s Eve Traditions in Portugal, from Lesson 5 of “Natal e Ano Novo”.

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