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Christmas in Portugal

Some of us are preparing for our first Christmas in Portugal! Some of us are well-seasoned stayers for Portuguese Festivities! This year most people are looking forward to a more ‘normal’ looking Christmas than the one we had in 2020, many of the traditional celebrations which were postponed or cancelled last year will be back this year for all to enjoy.

I have spent Christmas in many different countries over the years which has led to seeing many different traditions to compare to the traditions I was raised with in the UK as a child and I can truly say that none compare to the warmth and love of the Portuguese Christmas time… Towns are adorned with decorations, nativity scenes ‘presépio’, coloured lights and more often now the seemingly obligatory climbing Santa.

In the interests of full disclosure… I did miss some of the typical English food that I associate with Christmas, a Terry’s chocolate orange, cheddar cheese, chutney…. and of course what would Christmas be without stuffing? These ‘home comfort’ foods can be hunted out readily enough by a tenacious shopper and are becoming increasingly easy to find in large supermarkets across Portugal too, and ultimately all of this pales in significance when surrounded by people who love to spend time together and are full of Christmas cheer, the Portuguese being full of cheer most of the time anyway you find with the added festive flush most towns and villages feel like one large family.

In the UK of course the 25th is the big day, in Portugal many families begin celebrations on the 24th for ‘consoada’, presents are exchanged and the celebratory meal is eaten, traditionally this meal would include ‘bacalhau’ (cod) vegetables and for dessert lots of cakes (you will get familiar with Bolo Rei, a port cake with candied fruit on top) and other sweet treats. The 25th is a day to rest and enjoy time with friends and family although locally to us the main Christmas market is open on the 25th still and I’ve always been surprised with how many people go out and party well into the evening!

Our local town of Penamacor holds its annual Madeiro celebration, this involves bringing in tonnes and tonnes of huge pieces of wood and tree roots from the trees which have fallen or died from disease over the course of the previous year on the back of tractors and trailers in procession through the town… Of course… this is Portugal, so it involves wine, music and lots of smiles, hugs and kissing! Trailer load by trailer load the gigantic logs are piled up, eye-wateringly close to the town church and surrounding buildings and on the stroke of midnight on 23rd December the huge fire is lit, the bombeiros (firemen) are always on hand, dampening the fire down to ensure it doesn’t get too hot (especially so after the heat was so intense it melted the shutters on the house across the street one year!) And there the fire burns all day and night until it’s nothing but a few embers.

The tradition isn’t born from nowhere of course, it started when young men who were bound for compulsory military service (which has long since stopped) would steal wood to try and build the largest fire outside the church in order to warm the feet of the baby Jesus, the wood had to be stolen and they had to not get caught! Today of course the wood is not stolen, instead it’s donated, usually anonymously by local families but it’s no less of a spectacle to watch and always brings hundreds and hundreds of people to see it being installed and lit. The Madeiro is still lit on a smaller scale in some other towns and villages in Portugal, be sure to try and see this amazing event if you can get the chance too!

You can find out more about the Madeiro in Penamacor here.

Whatever you end up doing we wish you a wonderful Christmas time, and hope you embrace Portugal and it’s wonderful Christmas time traditions!

Portuguese phrases to help this month:

Happy/Merry Christmas – ‘Feliz Natal’
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year – ‘Boas Festas’

Feliz Natal from the Pure Portugal Team! xx

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