Christmas traditions in Portugal
Feliz Natal! Merry Christmas! A country deeply rooted in the Catholic religion, Portugal is one of the countries where Christmas traditions have been celebrated for generations. Gastronomy, religious celebration, family reunions... discover the highlights of the Portuguese holiday season!
In Portugal, 'Consoada' is the name of Christmas Eve. Identified by a meal, plain, but lots of it, as often is the case during the great celebrations in Portugal. More than luxurious dishes or expensive products, the Christmas table is above all the opportunity to savor simple but tasty dishes, all imbued with tradition.
If cod is the Portuguese national dish, this is also rings true during Christmas. On New Year's Eve, typically serving bacalhau cozido, boiled cod with simple potatoes and cabbage cooked in water. A rather frugal meal, in anticipation of the many desserts that will be tasted, after the midnight mass.
In each house, a whole table is dedicated to desserts. Traditionally, the table of desserts will remain topped up for several days, a welcome to all the relatives who visit to offering gifts and to present their wishes. Among them is the 'bolo rei', kings cake, in the form of a crown, composed of dried fruits and garnished with crystallized fruits. Formerly, the Portuguese served this pastry on the 6th of January, date on which according to the Catholic religion, the 3 wise kings would have visited the child Jesus. The 6th of January was for a long time the day on which the gifts were exchanged. Today, the consumption of bolo rei has spread throughout the Christmas period. Portuguese rice pudding, arroz doce, is also part of the usual desserts of the Christmas table. Lightly flavored with lemon, it is decorated with cinnamon. They also eat French toast and filhos, large donuts made from a dough close to the one used for bread, often very lightly scented with brandy and orange.
A religious tradition still very present
The midnight mass is still traditional in Portugal. Called the Missa do Galo, literally "the mass of the cock". According to beliefs, a cock would indeed have sung the morning of December 25th, celebrating in its own way the birth of Jesus Christ. After returning from Mass gifts are opened, which according to tradition are brought by the little Jesus, even if Santa Claus is gaining ground. Also installed is the little Jesus in the family creche, another tradition still widespread in families. Christmas cribs all found all around during the holiday season: in every house, in churches and even in gardens... The tradition of the Christmas tree is very recent, but has quickly become a custom. As proof, Lisbon recently erected the largest illuminated Christmas tree in Europe, 62 meters high. In some regions, an orange with cloves are offered as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Another tradition widespread in Portugal: on December 8th, families put seeds (wheat, barley, peas) to sprout in cotton soaked in water. The seeds will then be placed near the crib with oranges. On Christmas Eve, families lay them on the table as a symbol of prosperity.
Finally, during the night of Christmas, the musicians and singers of each town and village, walk the streets to sing and play at the doors of locals. These events are called the Janeiras, although as their name suggests, they are most often held in January.