Holidays are very important to the Portuguese, and Christmas in Portugal is no exception. If you want to learn more about Christmas customs, traditions and celebrations, read on.

Christmas In Portugal

Christmas in Portugal is a grand affair and is celebrated entirely on the basis of Catholicism. More than 94% of Portuguese are Catholic and hence, one can expect to hear traditional caroling, neon-lit Christmas trees and Santa Claus, parading around the country on the 25th of December. From 'Bolo Rei', the traditional Christmas cake to setting up the Presepio, Christmas in Portugal is a blast of vivid colors, delicious aromas, creativity and festive fun! The question to be asked however, is what makes Christmas in Portugal, so different from the others? There is a lot more vivacity than just the shopping, the turkey and the lights. Special Christmas traditions like 'Christmas Madeiro' and the 'Christmas Feast of the Immaculate Conception' are integral to the holiday season in this charismatic nation. In Portugal, the tradition of gift-giving was also defined by the strong Catholic beliefs of the people, and Father Christmas (Pai Natal) and Infant Jesus are believed to have been born from these beliefs. To know more about the customs and the celebrations in this country, you will have to scroll down, but not before learning how to say Merry Christmas in local tongue - 'Feliz Natal'/'Boas Festas'!

Customs, Traditions And Celebrations

Christmas Eve Traditions
Like most countries, the Eve of Christmas is given more importance than the festival itself. It is on this day where most of the Christmas celebrations take place. Portuguese families gather around the Christmas tree, sing songs in the praise of the Lord and also help each other with the erecting of the creche. The creche/crib is considered to be a very important part of the Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, the children are in charge of collecting the materials for the creche and help the adults set it up. Some families are believed to display only the sacred family, while the others go all-out and even include figures of cows/camels, complete with the snow made with cotton balls.

On Christmas Eve, as per tradition, children write letters to 'Pai Natal' or Infant Jesus asking for presents, rather than writing letters to Santa Claus. Another part of the Christmas Eve tradition is to attend Masses at church, particularly, the Midnight Mass known as 'Missa de Gallo'. 'Janeiras' (Christmas carols) are sung by women and children on the streets during Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve Feast
The Christmas Eve supper, called 'Consoada' consists mostly of boiled codfish with potatoes and cabbage. Desserts have always been integral to Christmas feasts and in Portugal, the desserts are usually fried. 'Fihoses' or 'Fihos' are made out of fried pumpkin dough and are essential to the feast. Other fried desserts include 'rabanadas', 'azevias', lampreia de ovos' and 'aletria'. The feast is not complete without the traditional Christmas cake known as 'Bolo Rei', which is a fruitcake encompassing two surprise- a ring/doll/medal and a bean. While the people who find the ring/doll/medal are safe, the ones who get the beans are not so fortunate. It is said that the people who get the bean might face bad luck and will have to buy the 'Bolo Rei' cake the next year.

On The Day Of Christmas
On the morning of Christmas, children open their presents and stay indoors after attending morning Mass at church. Christmas lunches are less elaborate affairs than Christmas Eve dinners. On the day of Christmas, people usually have Porto wine, stuffed turkey and traditional desserts. Families then go out for shopping, catch up on a movie or even go the city center to witness one of the world's largest creches. The town of Penela offers one of the largest living creches in the world, with the locals joining hands to recreate the Nativity Scene. People are dressed in their best costumes and enact the parts of Joseph, Mary, the Magi, shepherds and the onlookers. To add to the celebration, the local town hall organizes competitions every year on the best traditional Creche designs. The making of creches has been an important part of Portuguese culture since time immemorial.

'Christmas Madeiro'
In the regions of Penamacor, a special Christmas tradition known as the Christmas Madeiro takes place. The boys who are about to enroll in the army have to steel whole trees and make the tallest fire in their neighborhood. This fire is usually lit on the Eve of Christmas or during Midnight Mass to 'warm baby Jesus'. These trees usually keep burning till Christmas.

Christmas in Portugal is a beautiful one. Influenced by Spanish traditions, the celebrations in Portugal highlight the importance of tradition, folklore and culture in the lives of the Portuguese. Towns and cities are bedecked in lights and shimmer like the jewels in a crown. The festivities of Christmas usually end on the 6th of January, on a day called 'Dia de Reis'.