The start of December, the joyful time when festive cheer counteracts any winter weather and spirits run high. Around the world countries will celebrate this period in different ways and it is a great time to come together with family and friends. At Bowler & Beach we love the feeling of sharing great times together with close ones, so although there may not be endless sunshine, we embrace the festive period wholeheartedly! Given how Portugal’s importance to us and Bowler & Beach, we thought we’d show you how Christmas is celebrated in Portugal.
Father Christmas, or ‘Pai Natal’ in Portuguese, is is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. The presents are left under the Christmas Tree or in shoes by the fireplace; with shoes traditionally being used instead of stockings.
The food and festivities
Portuguese families celebrate the ‘consoada’ on Christmas Eve by gathering for dinner and opening presents at midnight. Many will go to Midnight Mass and a lot of houses will often have their own nativity scene out, with the baby Jesus miraculously arriving after returning from church (via the helping hand of parents…!).
The Christmas meal is typically enjoyed on 24th December and consists of dried-salted ‘bacalhau’ (codfish) boiled with potatoes, cabbage, onions, chickpeas and an egg with lashings of olive oil is the traditional dish.
A dessert table is set with dried fruits, puddings, cakes and especially ‘rabanadas’, bread slices soaked in milk, lemon and cinnamon, deep fried and dipped in sugar and more cinnamon. Another traditional dessert is ‘bolo rei’, a fruitcake which has two surprises in it. 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!
After Christmas – never before – and in the first weeks of January, groups of friends and families will go from house to house with an image of the baby Jesus in his manger singing the ‘Janeiras’ songs (January songs), often accompanied with small instruments. They usually start with an opening song asking the owner of the house for food and drink!
The owner of the house is obliged to invite them in to warm up and to help themselves to festive food such as figs with walnuts inside them or cheese and chorizo and of course, some wine or brandy. If they do not open their door, or their food and drink doesn’t meet what is expected, the singers will sing songs mocking the house owner (like saying you’ve got a big nose)! Normally after enjoying the food, the January singers will sing a song of thanks praising the generosity of the hosts, saying how nice you are and saying any single girls are very beautiful!
In the region of Penamacor, a special Christmas tradition called the ‘Christmas Madeiro’ takes place on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, young men who were about to go into the military for compulsory military service were meant to steal whole trees to make the tallest fire in the church yard. The fire is lit just before the Midnight mass or during it “to warm baby Jesus’s feet”. It also gives locals a warm and festive place to meet friends, chat and sing songs when they come out of midnight mass. The Madeiro is sometimes so big that it will keep on burning through to and during Christmas day as well. Traditionally the wood for this Madeiro had to be stolen and if the boys were caught by the owners of the trees, then they have to pay for it; often it is the case that parents pay for it discreetly these days!
So with all this mind, how will you be celebrating this year?