PORTUGAL | A grand affair from Joana Gama, Head of Marketing at TLC Portugal DMC
Spending Christmas in Portugal one can expect to hear traditional carolling, see neon-lit Christmas trees and Santa Claus parading around the country on the 25th December. From Bolo Rei (traditional Christmas cake) to setting up the Crèche or Presépio (Nativity), Christmas in Portugal is a blast of vivid colours, delicious aromas, creativity and festive fun!
The question to be asked however, is what makes Christmas in Portugal, so different from others? There is a lot more than just the shopping, the turkey and the lights.
The Christmas Eve supper, the feast called Consoada is the main Christmas meal. It consists mostly of boiled codfish with potatoes and cabbage. Desserts have always been integral to Christmas feasts and are usually fried; Filhoses are made out of fried pumpkin dough and are essential. The feast is also not complete without the traditional Christmas cake known as Bolo Rei (King cake), which is a fruitcake encompassing two surprises - a ring / doll / medal and a bean. Whoever finds the ring / doll / medal are safe, the unlucky ones who find the beans are not so fortunate. It is said that the people who get the bean might face bad luck and will have to buy the Bolo Rei the next year.
Missa do Galo, Midnight Mass, is a custom among Catholics, 94% of Portugal's population. It is celebrated at midnight on 24th December, a time referred to as being in galli cantu (at cock crow), and was originally the first of three masses comprising the liturgy of Christmas Day. During the Missa do Galo, people can admire the Nativity, which has been specially prepared for the occasion, and after communion, everyone moves up to the altar to kiss the Baby Jesus.
On the day of Christmas the children open their presents and stay indoors after attending morning Mass. Christmas lunches are less elaborate affairs than Christmas Eve dinners, usually just Porto wine, stuffed turkey and traditional desserts. Families then go out for shopping, catch up on a movie or even go to the city centre to witness one of the world's largest Crèches. The town of Penela offers one of the largest living Crèches in the world, with the locals joining hands to recreate the Nativity scene. People are dressed in their best costumes and enact the parts of Joseph, Mary, the Magi, shepherds and onlookers. The local town hall organises competitions every year for the best traditional Crèche designs. The making of Crèches has been an important part of Portuguese culture since time immemorial.
"Feliz Natal" or "Boas Festas" translates to “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”!