Christmas in Portugal is celebrated with a blend of religious traditions, festive customs, and a strong focus on family and community. The holiday season in Portugal is a special time of year, marked by various unique traditions and celebrations. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in Portugal:
One of the most significant Christmas traditions in Portugal is the creation of intricate nativity scenes, known as "presépios." These scenes are displayed in homes, churches, and public spaces and often include not only the Holy Family but also detailed depictions of village life and artisans.
Homes, streets, and towns are beautifully decorated with festive lights, ornaments, and nativity scenes. Many Portuguese families also set up and decorate Christmas trees.
The Christmas season begins with Advent, and it is common for Portuguese households to have Advent calendars and Advent wreaths.
Attending the Midnight Mass, known as "Missa do Galo," is an important tradition, especially for the Catholic population. The Mass celebrates the birth of Jesus and is followed by a festive meal.
Christmas Eve, known as "Consoada," is the most important night of the holiday season. Families come together for a grand meal that typically includes codfish (bacalhau) and a variety of other traditional Portuguese dishes. The meal is followed by the exchange of gifts and the singing of Christmas carols.
While gift-giving is a significant part of the Christmas celebration, it often takes place on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. Children eagerly anticipate the arrival of "Pai Natal" (Father Christmas) or the "Menino Jesus" (Baby Jesus), who is believed to bring gifts.
Caroling is a cherished tradition in Portugal, with groups of carolers visiting homes and singing traditional Christmas carols. These carolers are often rewarded with sweets or small gifts.
In Portugal, the holiday season extends to the Feast of the Epiphany, known as "Dia de Reis" (Three Kings' Day). On this day (January 6th), children receive gifts from the Three Wise Men, much like in other countries.
Bolo-Rei, a traditional Portuguese Christmas cake, is a popular treat during the holiday season. This round, fruit-studded cake is often decorated with candied fruits and powdered sugar. A small figurine and a dried bean are baked into the cake, and the person who finds the figurine in their slice is said to have good luck for the coming year.
Some Portuguese towns and cities put on elaborate street decorations, including lighting displays, to create a festive atmosphere during the holiday season.
Many Portuguese people participate in acts of charity during the Christmas season, helping those in need and supporting local charities and community organizations.
Christmas in Portugal is a time for faith, tradition, and togetherness. The combination of religious customs, vibrant decorations, and delicious culinary delights makes it a special and joyful time for the Portuguese people and visitors alike.
In Portugal, Christmas is celebrated with great fun and fervor. Catholicism being the predominant religion of the country, the festival is observed here with as much solemnity as festive gaiety.
A major Christmas tradition here is setting up the Creche, the representation of Christ's nativity in the stable at Bethlehem. Catholicism is the main religion in Portugal. Thus, the Creche is a very important part of the celebration. The materials for the Creche are traditionally collected by the children. While some families only display the three main figures, Infant Jesus, Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, many revel in displaying an elaborate scene with not only the three figures but also the Three Wise Kings, the shepherd and the sheep, complete with a beautiful ambience of lakes (made with mirrors) and hills (made with stones, moss, and clay). On Christmas Eve Portuguese families gather around the Christmas tree and the Creche to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
During the holiday season towns are decorated with lights. In the days leading to Christmas, the Christmas tree is set up and adorned with beautiful items of decoration. Houses are decorated in a festive manner to celebrate the occassion. In every Portuguese house, a piece of oak is kept burning on the hearth all through the Christmas day. This wooden piece is known as the "Cepo de Natal" or the Christmas log.
Gift-giving is an integral part of the Christmas celebrations. According to the Portugese tradition, it is the Three Wise Men and not Santa Claus who is the gift-bringer. On 5th of January or Epiphany Eve, children keep their shoes along windowsills and doorways and fill them with carrots and straw. They do this with because they are told that this act would lure the horses of the Three Wise Men to their household during the night. They would then leave small gifts under the Christmas tree and treats in the displayed shoes. Children wake up in the morning to collect the gifts and the goodies consisting usually of candied fruits and sweet breads. Some families put one shoe ("sapatinho") of each child next to the chimney (since most of the kitchens in Portugal have one) or next to the fireplace instead of a stocking.
On the Christmas day morning, feast is held. It is known as consoda. Christmas is celebrated in much the same way in Portugal as it is in Spain. The Portugese enjoy an additional feast, called consoada, in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. They set extra places at the table for alminhas a penar ("the souls of the dead"). In some areas crumbs are left on the hearth for these souls, a custom that derives from the ancient practice of entrusting seeds to the dead in hopes that they will provide a bountiful harvest. In Portugal, it is popular custom to set extra places at table for dead souls. Souls are given food gift with the hope of doing well in future.
Many families attend the Midnight Mass (called "Missa do Galo") on Christmas Eve. Thereupon, they gather around the table and have supper (known as "Ceia de Natal"). The menu consists of codfish with boiled potatoes and cabbage. The dessert is mainly "filhoses or filhós" made of fried pumpkin dough; "rabanadas" (much like French toast); "aletria" (a vermicelli sweet with eggs) or "azevias" - round cakes made of a crust filled with a mixture of chick peas, sugar, and orange peel. Another traditional dessert is "Bolo Rei", a fruitcake having two surprises in them. One is a little present like a fake ring, or a little doll, or a medal; and the other is a raw broad bean. The person who gets the bean has to buy the "Bolo Rei" in the coming year.
On Christmas Day, people eat stuffed turkey for lunch and the traditional desserts. Caroling is quite popular here. On 25th December, carolers sing Christmas carols (called "Janeiras") in the streets in some regions of the country. People wish to each other "Feliz Natal" or "Boas Festas", which means "Merry Christmas" in Portuguese.
The festivities end on January 6, "Dia de Reis".