Christmas traditions in Portugal
Are you going to Portugal for the holidays or do you want to bring back some of the traditions of this beautiful country for Christmas? You are right, the Portuguese are great lovers of Christmas and leave nothing to hazard for this special holiday.
From the north to the south of the country, traditions differ and everyone brings to their homes rituals more or less ancient, in memory of their heritage. "Presépios", "Madeiros de Natal", "Missa do galo", and many more, in this article we tell you everything you need to know about Christmas traditions in Portugal.
★ Christmas arrangements in Portugal
Christmas" in Portuguese is called "Natal". Christmas in Portugal begins to be prepared as soon as the end of All Saints' Day. It is a highly anticipated moment in the year, both for children and adults. A little more than a month before Christmas, the cities light up and the 13 Christmas desserts and the famous Portuguese Nativity scenes called “Presépios”.
Regarding the Christmas tree "Árvore de Natal" or "Pinheiro", it has not been part of the Portuguese tradition for a very long time and it is not necessarily adopted in all homes. In Lisbon, it is more the pine tree that is proposed as a Christmas tree. Less bushy and less majestic than its cousin, it is one of the most common trees in Portugal and therefore easily available for sale.
In the capital and in Porto, every year, it is the firemen who sell Christmas trees. The "Pinheiro Bombeiro" (firemen's tree) comes from the pruning of the surrounding forests. This pruning is done annually in winter to maintain the forests and prevent summer fires.
Although the Christmas tree is not the oldest custom in Portugal, the city of Viana do Castelo, in the north of Portugal, nevertheless makes a point of displaying the largest natural Christmas tree in Europe every year. Similarly, in Guimarães, a procession traditionally takes place on November 29, to erect the Christmas tree in the central square, cut down at dawn.
★ Portuguese Christmas Eve traditions
Christmas Eve is called "Consoada" in Portuguese. The traditions are similar to those found in many places where Christmas is celebrated.
Originally, it is customary in the Catholic religion to fast on December 24th until the evening. Although this tradition has been lost over time, in Portugal Christmas Eve dinner is very simple. The meal consists of cod served with potatoes and cabbage. The table is nicely decorated with candles and small small typical Christmas decorations.
After the meal, there is the Midnight service, the "Missa do Galo" (Rooster Mass). After the service, in the North and Center of Portugal, big fires are lit in front of the church or in the central square of the city. These fires are called "Madeiros de Natal" or "Fogueiras do Galo". It is a very old tradition of pagan origin, which has spread in some regions of Europe. In Provence, for example, this custom is also called "Cacho fio".
After the mass, the families return to their homes where to taste the famous 13 desserts, as a reminder of the 12 apostles and Jesus at the Last Supper. Meanwhile, the "Menino Jesus" (Little Jesus) has brought the christmas gifts on the dinner table. The gifts are then exchanged around a table full of joy.
★ Christmas day in Portugal
On Christmas Day, December 25, the family gathers again at the christmas table. This time, the dishes are hearty and elaborate. We taste oven-roasted kid, "Leitão assado", the roasted suckling pig or turkey stuffed with chestnuts.