Spending Christmas in Portugal is a unique experience!
For those who live in very cold countries, being able to spend Christmas under the sunshine with the warm light is a fantastic experience!
As a Portuguese citizen who has lived a few years abroad, I must say that Christmas in Portugal has come to have a very special meaning to me. I´m always looking forward to enjoying a slice of king cake – “bolo rei”, a donut, a piece of dream cake – “sonho” with a coffee as I gaze out at one of the many Christmas trees scattered around “my” city – the city of Lisbon.
Portuguese Christmas traditions
Pai Natal (Santa Claus)
This tradition is a big one for Portuguese children. Santa Claus, known here as “Pai Natal”, pays the children a visit and of course drops of some presents. Pai Natal is always dressed in his red suit and a long white beard.
Christmas in Portugal is a very important time with significant symbols that are carried throughout generations. One example is the nativity scene which is a less common tradition in northern European countries. The Portuguese love to have cribs in their nativity scenes!
If you visit Portugal at this time of the year, you´ll most probably see these cribs in every city, from the north to the south of the country. Most Portuguese also decorate the inside of their homes with a nativity scene crib. Often the different parts of the crib are passed down from generation to generation.
Christmas markets are not as popular in Portugal as they are in other European countries. For many years, the village of Óbidos was the site of the biggest and most important Christmas market in Portugal. However in the last decade, several towns and cities with impressive Christmas markets have appeared. In Lisbon you´ll be able to see several smaller Christmas markets and a larger market in the Marquês de Pombal region (a very central part of Lisbon).
The 24th of December
Christmas in Portugal is celebrated on the evening of December 24th around midnight, which means that Christmas Eve ends at dawn on December 25th.
Christmas Dinner – Consoada
Christmas dinner takes place on the evening of December 24th. Cod dishes are the most common choice of food for Christmas dinner (the Portuguese love cod!). Although goat and octopus dishes are also popular choices, especially in the north of the country.
Desserts and Sweets
Sweets such as french toast –”rabanadas”, golden slices – “fatias douradas”, dreams – “sonhos”, holly sprouts – “azevias”, coscorões and “filhós” are a very important part of Christmas dinner in Portugal. Many of these sweets are fried and topped with sugar- not the healthiest but so yum nevertheless!
There are also the famous Christmas breads which are made of sweet potatoe, egg, sugar and orange peel. Apart from these typical Christmas desserts, Christmas is also famous for flan pudding, rice pudding and vermicelli.
We mustn´t forget the famous “Christmas lamprey”, a dessert made of egg yolk and shaped like a “lamprey fish”. Many people say this is a dessert for children, but in fact many adults like this strange dessert too. Two other cakes you can find during Portuguese Christmas are the King cake and the Raínha cake, “two bread-style” cakes.
The 25th of December
The day after Christmas Eve is usually a calmer day and most families indulge in a large plate of meat (like young goat) or turkey. Some families prefer to continue eating cod on Christmas day, and this dish is termed “old clothes” as it´s a dish made from the leftover cod from the night before.
What to drink during Christmas in Portugal
Port wine is a very popular drink during this time of year. Many people are unaware that there are many different types of port including: vintage, tawny, ruby,white and crusted. Port wine can be bought at supermarkets or liquor stores and prices are relatively cheap compared to prices in other European countries.
In addition to port wine, you should also consider trying the famous “Ginjinha”. Ginjinha is a drink made of cherries and has a very Christmas-y flavor. “Amarguinha” is also a typical drink to consume during the Christmas period, it´s produced from almonds and should be served with lemon and ice.
Weather to expect
Portugal is a small and narrow country with a very diverse climate. If your Christmas destination is in the south of Portugal (Algarve), you can expect good weather (between 10 and 18 degrees). Although it may be warmer, you could still get some rain and wind… it is December after all!
The north of the country (cities like Porto, Braga or Guimarães) are much colder than the South of Portugal. If you are after some snow then Serra da Estrela or the city of Bragança are the places to go, here you´ll likely see snow during December and January.
The end of the Christmas period…. and the beginning of the New Year!
Companies, stores and businesses shut on Christmas day and New Years day. The Christmas season officially ends on January 6th on what´s known as Kings Day – “Dia de Reis”. However most people in Portugal will return to work on December 26th or January 2nd (after New Year’s Eve).
In various Portuguese regions, people sing songs during the New Year period (a custom known as “Janeiras”). During this celebration, people gather and stroll around the city singing and wishing a “Happy New Year” to everyone they pass by.
The holidays officially end on January 7th of every year. Christmas decorations and cribs are taken down and carefully stored for the next year.