November 27, 2013

The tradition of Christmas in Portugal

The tradition of Christmas in Portugal

Many of you ask me about Christmas tradition in Portugal. This post is about the way Portuguese celebrate Christmas today. Catholicism is the main religion in Portugal. The tradition of gift-giving is strong but Christmas is still considered a very religious occasion and many celebrate it according to Christian religious beliefs. It's the celebration of family. It's a time where families come together. It's a time of comfort.

By the way, that's me in the photo! Back then my family was into natural pine trees. This was in the late '70s. No ecological conscience yet, sorry!! A few years later my mother bought a green plastic Christmas tree and we never got pine trees to decorate. But I still remember going with my father in the mountain to steal a tree and then we would have that pine smell in the house for days. It was also the smell of Christmas along with the one from cakes baking in the oven I still have that doll! But now I am taller than she! Merry Christmas, Feliz Natal!

So, how do Portuguese celebrate Christmas?

1. It was St. Francis of Assis in the 13th Century who had the idea to re-create the stable where Jesus was born. Most of us display a nativity scene or crib (it's called Presepio) in the house. We get the traditional figurines - Mary and Joseph, the Three wise men, an ox, a donkey, and baby Jesus! Also the Three Wise men and the shepherds. Today it's usual to make cribs with all kinds of materials. My nephew made one with scraps of wood and pines.

Cribs can be very simple or very complicated with lots and lots of figurines! In Portugal, there was a strong nativity scene tradition and the ones sculpted by artist Machado de Castro are world famous and considered art. From my childhood in the north, I also remember popular nativity scenes displayed in churches with hundreds of clay small figures painted with vivid colors and real moss. Some even had motion!

2. Portuguese enjoy decorating Christmas trees. They are in every house, every shop or outside on the city streets. Watch the short video on the tallest Christmas tree in Europe, displayed in 2007 at Oporto city, Northern Portugal.

3. As in many countries, some Portuguese city streets get nice colorful decorations in the month of December. At 6PM is already night in Winter. It's beautiful to leave our jobs and walk home under decorated streets. And don't forget that we have a milder winter climate! The photo was taken in Braga, a city in the north, where I spent my childhood.

4. Children are encouraged to ask for presents to Baby Jesus or Santa Claus. Santa is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. Or early in the morning. The presents are left under the Christmas tree or in shoes by the fireplace or placed under the Christmas tree after they were properly cleaned and shiny to please the Pai Natal (Santa Claus).

5. Portuguese celebrate Christmas with a rich table of sweet cakes and biscuits, dry fruits and good wine and liquors. The traditional Christmas cake is 'Bolo Rei' (which means 'King Cake') and is placed in the center of the table. It's a wreath like fruit cake laced with crystallized fruits and pine nuts. There was a tradition about a tiny present hidden inside the cake and also broadbean. The person who finds the broadbean in one slice will pay the next "King"!! The tiny presents, usual pins, were forbidden some years ago to avoid accidental swallowing.

6. Traditional Christmas meal takes place in the evening of Christmas Eve. We call it the Consoada. It consists of boiled dried codfish and boiled potatoes, cabbage and eggs, all sprinkled with olive oil. After this light meal, some families eat exquisite meat dishes and traditional sweets. Usually, we eat fried desserts: "filhoses or filhós" that are made of fried pumpkin dough. "Rabanadas" that are made with slices of bread. We cut the bread in slices, dip it in milk beaten with egg. Then we fry each slice in hot oil in a skillet for a few seconds on each side. I sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon and pour a sugar and Port wine syrup on top! It'as very good! I also like "aletria". This dessert is made with vermicelli pasta.

7. After dinner meal, the tradition for religious people is to go to church for the "Missa do Galo" or "Mass of the Rooster" service. After the service people return home to open their presents. This isn't as common as a few years ago but regions in the interior of Portugal still follow this ritual. In the regions of Bragança, Guarda or Castelo Branco, (interior of the country) a yule log is burned in the atrium of the village church after mass.

8. On Christmas Day the living room table remains set all day with sweets and dry fruits. People enjoy lunch together and stay home most of the day enjoying themselves. Roast chicken, lamb or turkey are common meat dish in this day.

9. And did I mention exchanging Christmas greeting cards? Today people just don't send so many greeting cards as they used to. It's expensive and it takes time to choose and write. So more and more people just send an SMS or an email or use Facebook. But the most traditional still buy Christmas cards to send to family, friends, and customers. Look at the Christmas tree in the photo. We used to put the Christmas cards received in the tree when I was a child!

I selected some Zazzle products for the Christmas house decoration! They are from my new Zazzle store No Boring White. Have a look!

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