Join me for a New Year's Eve in Portugal!


Join me and I will tell you how I spend the final hours of the last day of the year and the first hours of the first day of the New Year! I don't promise an extraordinary program, but you'll get to know me better as I tell you about some of the traditions, superstitions, and beliefs that guide Portuguese crowds when the clock strikes 12 in Portugal.

You may want to know what green drink is that I'm holding. It's one I like to drink in the last year of the year: Licor de poejo. Green color, they say, it's the color of hope. This liquor has a beautiful color and an enchanting flavor. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is one of the most well-known species of the genus Mentha, quite common in Portugal of the Lamiaceae (lipped) family, It is a perennial cespitosa of rhizomatous roots that grow well in moist places or next to river courses, where it can be found wild among grasses and other plants. This liqueur can be green or yellow depending on how the plant is used in its production. 

Pennyroyal is traditionally used in several culinary recipes. Since ancient times, Pennyroyal has always been differentiated from other species of mints due to its abortive and emmenagogue properties (stimulate menstrual flow). The toxic effects of essential oil on the liver and neurological system were discovered more recently - the essential oil is only used externally. Its scientific name Mentha pulegium has its origin in the traditional use of the plant against fleas (from Latin pulex). Don't worry, my liver is fine!

First of all, let's meet for a late and lengthy dinner. Then, let's go outside to watch some big fireworks and street concerts as almost every town in Portugal will have a New Year’s Eve small festival hosted by the city hall. Then, let's swim in the Atlantic Ocean! LOL! Just kidding!

A late and lengthy dinner. 

As in many places in the world, the Portuguese like to gather around the table to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the arrival of the new. I'm one of those people. As I grew older I really don't know how to party without good food and drinks whether with family or friends. At the moment there are a lot of Brazilian coming to Portugal to find work. I met a Brazilian girl at the local mall that told me that chicken is out of the New Year's Eve menu because "chicken scratches backward", and nobody wants to go backward in the New Year! She also told me that Brazilian always eat lentil soup to attract wealth. They believe that this food brings prosperity and money for the coming year. The round lentil resembles Roman coins thus associated with wealth and prosperity. The Bible mentions lentils in the Old Testament. Isaac's son Esau trades his birthright for a plate of lentils. Subsequently, he becomes a rich man. Portuguese don't have a dish to attract wealth, but our dishes attract fatness if we don't watch our weight closely!

For New Year's Eve dinner, I like to put little dishes of rissoles on the table, some cheese, olives, and maybe stuffed eggs. Usually, I cook just one good dish of bacalhau, seafood, or meat. If there is soup it must be Caldo Verde because it's light and everybody likes it. Then we feast on desserts like bolo-rei (King-Cake), rabanadas (known as French Toast), or aletria (a type of sweet noodles), pão-de-ló ( a puffy cake), a pudding. I try to have also almonds, dry figs, walnuts, pine nuts, apricots, and plums...These fruits were present in the winter solstice festivities. In Ancient Rome it was a common gift during celebrations. The rich offered dried fruits covered in gold as gifts. When we put it on the table at Christmas we are observing an ancient Roman way. For them, each type of dried fruit had a special meaning- hazelnuts prevented hunger, walnuts were related to abundance and prosperity, and almonds protected people from the effects of alcohol.

You must fill your belly if you want to go out into the street! After dinner, we go see the fireworks or watch a concert on one of the stages set up in the open air. As a rule, I don't stay outside for long because I always get cold no matter what. As soon as I can I rush to the comfy table to eat and drink some more. Sometimes after midnight, we watch a movie! Or two! We run a contest to see who can stay awake longer! It's not easy after we've drunk more than we can handle!

A toast with champagne and 12 raisins must be made when the clock strikes

Dinner is interrupted before midnight. We don't like having the TV on during meals but we turn it on to tune in to the countdown somewhere in the world. To toast the New Year with champagne and shout the countdown is a rule but on the table, there are always a few other beverage bottles as the night progresses like Port Wine. Sparkling wine has accompanied celebrations for centuries. High society started drinking it in Europe every time there was a celebration. Champagne was more exquisite than other wines, more refined and expensive. It had the status of a luxury product. Popping sparkling wine on New Year's Day is synonymous with party, joy, success, and achievement. With the bubbles going up, the golden color, and the sweetness of it, it's easy to understand why people all over the world have adopted sparkling wine for important moments.

But the Portuguese also eat 12 raisins and make 12 wishes as soon as midnight strikes. It's one raisin for each month. It's believed that eating raisins brings good luck in the coming months. We must hold a flute of champagne in one hand also. (Brazilians eat grapes, not raisins!) So, if you're invited to a dinner in a Portuguese house and find a bowl full of raisins on the table now you know what to do. Late in the night everyone will get their 12 raisins and prepare for when the clock starts to strike.

Cottonbro Studio

This is not a Portuguese tradition only. I did a little research. This tradition was created by Parisian aristocratic families. Spanish families who spent long periods in Biarritz and Paris in the last decade of the 19th century brought the tradition to Spain. Eating grapes accompanied by champagne on the last night of the year spread among the Madrid bourgeoisie. At the time it was difficult to find grapes in winter. Eating grapes favored luck for the year that was beginning. Spanish merchants saw a good business opportunity in this tradition and started to sell “Lucky Grapes” or “Fortune Grapes”.Some families decided to come to Puertas del Sol, in Madrid, to eat the grapes and drink champagne as they used to do at home. The habit spread year after year. At the beginning of the XX century farmers of Alicante and Murcia had a surplus of grapes in the autumn harvest and decided to offer them to the people who gathered at Puertas del Sol. The tradition extended to the humbler classes.

At the end of the 19th century, the Spaniards began to gather and eat raisins instead of grapes in protest against a tax created by the municipality for those who wanted to celebrate the Day of the Three Wise Men/Dia de Reis before time. At the time, the New Year was not celebrated on the 31st of December, but on the Dia de Reis which was on the 5th of January. The protest became a tradition. Once I spent New Year's Eve in Spain and my friends tuned the TV and showed me Puertas del Sol, the center of New Year's Eve festivities in Madrid. There was the clock on Puerta del Sol in Madrid, kilometer zero in Spain.

King Cake is a must in January!

In ancient Rome, the beginning of every month was sacred to Janus, especially the beginning of the first month of the year. Romans tried to please Janus so they were rewarded with prosperity. They adorned their houses with evergreens, prepared offerings for the god, and exchanged good wishes and strenae, or “good signs,” such as dates and figs, a symbol of sweet things that the new year should bring. The Roman custom of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Day continued through the Middle Ages. The offerings were cakes of spelt flour and salt and these cakes may be the origin of the King cake. I've already written a lot about bolo rei, I even gave you the recipe! Oh, just a curiosity, the month of January is named after the Latin word for door, ianua, because January is the door to the rest of the year. The 10 roman months were named Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December.

(A small King Cake I bought last week!)

Traditions that I never followed

A tradition that has to do with having money in your pockets or in your hand when midnight hits is something I've never done. It is believed that if you start the year with no money, your bad luck will not change until the end of the year. In our era of plastic cards, there are many days when I don't have a coin or banknote at home. Will the plastic card do the same? I read that following the Eastern belief that energy enters the body through the feet, many put a banknote in their shoe! And some will make the first purchase of the year with this note. The idea of ​​having coins in your hand as a sign of good luck may have originated from the tradition of Cuckoo Day, from the 19th century. There's an old British tradition of welcoming the cuckoo on the 14th of April, it also represents the arrival of spring. According to tradition, whoever saw that migratory bird and found money in his pocket would have a year of wealth. There is also the tradition of throwing coins in the air at the moment the last bell strikes. At a time of economic crisis like the one we are facing, when everyone is saying that next year will be terrible, I am feeling inclined to give it a go this year. There I go breaking the piggy bank! I have a ceramic one with some old escudos coins in the belly, a true relic.

Jumping off a chair with the right foot is another tradition. It is believed that when the new year arrives, we must be on top of a chair, jumping to the ground with our right foot so we can ring in the new year with the right foot! I think this is a very bad idea. Think about what you learned when you took your driving license. If you drive, you don't drink. I say that if you have been drinking all night you should not in any circumstance climb on the top of a chair. The probability of attracting the fall is stronger than that of attracting good luck...

And what about buying blue panties - or slippers or boxers - to wear for the first time in the new year? Wearing new underwear is said to attract love and good luck. Not me. I always found it confusing: should I take the old ones off and put the blue ones on when the countdown starts? Excuse me, how can I do it in a house full of people? Shall I go to the bathroom? Shall my friends take turns going to the bathroom? One thing is for sure: putting on new panties that were just bought and eating the 12 raisins and making the 12 wishes while drinking champagne standing up on a chair is a very demanding thing, it's asking a lot of a woman who's been eating and drinking all night!

And what about sticking the head out of the window and making a noise by hitting the pan with a wooden spoon or two lids from cooking pots? It is believed that the evil spirits that tormented us all year long will go away with so much noise going on. I believe that the huge fireworks already have the same effect, in addition to scaring dogs and scaring birds away, poor things. And what about my bird, Eva? No, I never felt inclined toward it. In the 1950s and 1960s, this noisy tradition escalated in the city of Lisbon, with old plates and pots thrown out the window. The silly thing it was banned.

And what about the crazy tradition of going to take a bath in the morning in the early hours of New Year's Day? It happens right here, in Figueira da Foz, but also in Carcavelos, Nazare, Matosinhos, Vila Nova de Gaia, and God knows in what places more! I have never done it and will never do it.  As much as I love the beach, no thanks. We are in the northern hemisphere, it's winter, the wind is cold, the water is cold, and the sun can even be shy. Courageous people, or crazy people, I don't know, what to call them, that's what I say about those who risk diving into the waves of the Atlantic on the first morning of the new year. Let's just say it's a little early to start the bathing season but that swim is an excellent way to shake off that hangover from the night before and wake up for the new day. In Brazil, where the climate is more favorable to the enterprise. they jump seven waves and make 7 wishes or thanks for something.

Booking a tour to a special place near or far

Leaving our house and spending the last day of the year in a different place is also a nice proposal. I've done it several times. Sometimes I regretted it because of bad weather or too many people. For me, it is not necessary to go far away. What really matters is to be in an interesting place and surrounded by the ideal people. In my opinion Algarve, Madeira, and Serra da Estrela are the Portuguese places that captivate the most people. I've been to Lisbon once and to Porto twice at the end of the year. 

Everyone says that Algarve it's kind of special. I am fond of the Algarve beaches and the hot weather in the summer. Knowing that the last days of the year are usually cold, rainy, or both, and that the warm weather in the Algarve makes it possible to celebrate outside, maybe even on the beach just sounds marvelous. I remember one last night of December in Figueira da Foz where I kept dancing all the time just not to freeze to death. It was a memorable experience for the wrong reason. 

Many Portuguese often head to Serra da Estrela to celebrate the last hours of the year. I am not a big fan of the snow but it's beautiful to look at from inside the window with the fireplace on. Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain in mainland Portugal, it's one of the best destinations in Portugal for nature lovers. The largest natural park in Portugal has100 thousand hectares of interesting landscape. The highest point of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park is called Torre and is 1993 meters high, making it the highest point on the mainland. Highest in Portugal only Pico Mountain in the Azores (2351 meters altitude). If there isn't enough snow to get into a snowball fight or make a snowman or practice the "sku" - sky falling on your butt! - LOL! There's a lot more to discover: winding paths, boulders, cliffs, viewpoints, rivers, lagoons, sheep herds, historic villages, and mountain villages. The absolute silence will calm your soul.

When you think about Madeira island and New Year's Eve you think of an incredible fireworks display. It's kind of a trademark, I would say. First, the locals lit bonfires to celebrate but in the 18th century, the residing British community in Madeira Island introduced rocket fire to signal the New Year's beginning.
A century later, a Madeiran banker named João José Rodrigues Leitão chose to recreate this tradition and the wealthy families from the island competed with each other in the rocket launch, promoting a fireworks spectacle. Over the years this show continued to grow. In 2006 it was internationally recognized by “The Guinness World of Records” as the “biggest fireworks display of the World”.The Funchal Harbour is small to accommodate all the cruise ships that come to watch the firework display.

For me, the most beautiful tradition of the New Year is singing The Janeiras

The New Year carols are called the Janeiras, and they were probably inherited from the Roman strenas, sung in order to receive gifts. In ancient times gifts were asked for or given to pagan gods at the beginning of the civil year as a symbol of good fortune both for the givers and the receivers. In Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany, people sing popular and festive religious songs.

The Janeiras - as they take place in January - consist of groups of men and women who go through the streets at the beginning of the year, singing door to door and wishing people a happy new year. This tradition is related to pagan cults taking place in the Roman month of the god Janus, from Janua, which means door, entrance. But in the old days, when people were living poorly they would also get a gift from the wealthy without them feeling humiliated by singing. The songs would mix the theme of Christmas with the begging for food. Nowadays this can be done by anyone, a group of friends, or neighbors who sing together, sometimes with folklore instruments: tambourine, drum, flute, or guitar.

To keep a bay leaf in our wallet all year round to attract good things

The expression “reap the laurels of victory” refers to the awards that were given to athletes in the first editions of the Olympics in Ancient Greece. Instead of gold, silver, and bronze medals, the winner was awarded a laurel wreath. As bay leaves remain green even in the winter period they stand for immortality. Popular wisdom says that we should keep a bay leaf in our wallet all year round to attract abundance. On it, write your name and make a wish. The ideal time to change the bay leaf is on the first day of the new year. I find this lovely. And what about you?

If you're looking for Portuguese-inspired Christmas or New Year's Eve gifts and cards, you may want to check A Portuguese Love Store.  

Visit A Portuguese Love Store for more gifts inspired by Portuguese pop culture and traditions.
Thank you!


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