At this time of year, the entire country comes to life with Christmas entertainment, starting with the lights that bring sparkle and color to the city centers. Here you can enjoy shopping in the many shops and markets, listen to choirs singing Christmas carols and sample some of the foods traditionally eaten at this time of year. Once you’ve taken your first step into Portuguese gastronomy, you’ll want to keep going! From sweet treats such as our famous pastel de nata (custard tart) to some of the best fish in the world, our cuisine features many hallmarks of the World Heritage Mediterranean Diet.
What about some family fun? The Aldeia Natal de Cabeça (Cabeça Christmas Village), in the municipality of Seia, Óbidos Vila Natal (Óbidos Christmas Village), Penela Presépio (Penela Crib), Perlim – A Farm of Dreams, in Santa Maria da Feira, or the life-size Monsaraz nativity scene, just to name a few, are very popular events at this time of the year.
Following tradition, Portuguese families gather on the 24th of December for dinner (Consoada) and set the table with a Madeira embroidery towel and Portuguese faience to serve the main dishes. The menu always includes cod dishes, although in the north, octopus is also an option. For dessert, you must have Bolo-Rei (literally the King Cake), made in the shape of a crown, filled and decorated with dry and crystallized fruit, the broas castelares, and the traditional fritters such as filhoses (traditional deep-fried sweet pastry sprinkled with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon), coscorões, sonhos, azevias (filled with chickpeas), and rabanadas (a type of French toast).
At midnight, the Rooster’s Mass is celebrated and in churches as well as at home, there is a special place for the nativity scene. Gifts are exchanged after midnight or the following morning, depending on each family.
In places such as Bragança, Guarda, Castelo Branco and Portalegre, a wood log is still burned during the night of December 24th in a large bonfire in the churchyard. It serves as a meeting place to gather friends and neighbors to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
And then there is Madeira, a favorite destination for New Year festivities. The entire island is decorated with myriad multi-colored lights and huge fireworks displays herald the New Year, attracting cruise ships and visitors from all over the world. Another big surprise is the climate: temperatures ranging from 20ºC to 25ºC are ideal for appreciating all the charm of the local landscapes. Can you think of a better way to start the New Year?
After New Year’s Eve, the festivities end on Epiphany Day, on January 6th. On the street or in monuments and churches, you can hear the Janeiras, traditional songs that wish for a good year.
Wherever in Portugal you choose to spend this time of the year, one thing is certain: you will experience a Christmas season full of color and Portuguese authenticity.