A Portuguese Christmas – Christmas in Portugal

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Having just spent the weekend making mince pies and experimenting with Christmas recipes and home-made gifts, our excitement about our upcoming Portuguese Christmas has reached a rather high level. In fact waking up this morning to find it is still over a month away and that we both have a load of work to do was rather depressing.

This will be our second Christmas in Portugal and we now have a lot of family members either here or visiting—if fact it will probably be the biggest Christmas family gathering I have experienced.

I am very much looking forward to all the usual things – watching cheesy movies, eating far too much junk-food and playing board games, not to mention enjoying the one day of the year when drinking champagne first thing in the morning is a cause for celebration rather than concern!

This year, we would also like to try to incorporate some more Portuguese traditions into our Christmas in Portugal.

I’m not going to do the bacalhau (salted cod) on Christmas eve thing, but will be attempting to cook it between now and Christmas, having made a commitment to a reader of the blog to do so 😉

A Portuguese Christmas - Lisbon at Christmas
A Portuguese Christmas - Lisbon at Christmas

I will also be attempting to cook a Bolo Rei (a Portuguese Christmas / New Year cake.) I understand from research that the tradition is to incorporate a medal or ring in the mixture as well as a dried broad bean. The person finding the medal is the lucky prize winner and the person finding the bean is responsible for paying for the cake the following year.

I have eaten bolo rei before and found it very tasty and full of seasonal spice flavour, but always somewhat dry, so I will see what I can do to make a slightly more moist version of this festive food.

Finally, we also have a small nativity scene ready to form part of our traditional Portuguese Christmas decorations. Nativity scenes are a seemingly essential part of any Portuguese Christmas.

So, those are our outline plans to make Christmas a little more Portuguese, but I would love to hear from readers in response to this post.

What are your Christmas traditions? If you live abroad have you started to incorporate local customs into your celebrations? And, most importantly, which Portuguese traditions should I learn about that I haven’t already?

I hope to hear some ideas. Now, I have to try to stop thinking about Christmas and get on with some work. Seasons greetings, and have a good week.

Photo credit: Ivo Emanuel Gonçalves

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8 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I remember one year, whilst they were living on their boat, my father and my step mum made a traditional portuguese turkey Christmas lunch which seemed to involved marinating the turkey in orange juice and slices of fruit and spices for about three days in a bucket. Mind you, their guests were Brazilian so it might have been a Brazilian dish! It seemed to go down well if i remember rightly. Maybe one of your blog readers will know more about it.

  2. Hi , have only recently found your site and have found it really interesting. Myself and my wife moved to alvor in 2004 and stayed for about 15 months, we had planed to stay forever but things didnt quite work out (finding permenant work is very difficult), having said that apart from the odd lunatic we ended up working for we thouroughly enjoyed our stay in portugal and would move back tomorrow if circumstances allowed. The lifestyle and people are incredible providing you intergrate which i can see you already have, why move to a different country and only mix with the expats, (my advice would be to avoid them at all costs) I wish you all the luck in the world and am very envious ha ha , if you gat chance try to visit alvor , its a beautiful place with fab restaurants and stunning beaches and bars. Anyway good luck to you both and i will keep reading.
    Kind Regards

  3. Hi Saz,

    That sounds like an interesting variation on the usual turkey recipes! I will have to see what I can find online!

    Best wishes, B

  4. Hi Rob,

    Thank you for reading the blog and for your good wishes. Sorry to hear you had to move back – do you plan to return at some point?

    I have been to Alvor several times and love the cove beaches just to the east between there and Praia de Rocha (in the off-season period anyway 😉

    Best wishes


  5. WE just had a “Portuguese” Christmas in England once, and this year is going to be the second time. The first one “brought” my second daughter and we have really good memories about that one.
    There are things that we appreciate over Christmas here, the traditional pantomimes are a ”must go” for us, and the crackers a good surprise for us and good fun for the girls that love it. However, mince pies and Christmas pudding are not very appreciated.

    A traditional Portuguese Christmas:
    Well, usually preparations start on the 24th and by the middle of the afternoon. Family gets together at someone’s house, and food and drinks are central, like in England.

    The particular type of food depends on the region, seafood is quite common to start, (if you go to Olhão you will see a lot of people buying it over there), roasted octopus (polvo à lagareiro) is something that we usually do as well, but roasted “cabrito” or turkey are even more traditional. After that, we use to have bacalhau (cod) cozido with cabage, egg, potatoes, carrot etc “temperado” with olive oil and lemon juice, and I also like to have “canja de galinha ou de perú”, check the recipe is very simple but tasty, and don’t forget to put lemon juice and mint in case you decide to do it.
    To digest all the food and if you are religious, going to the “missa do galo” is a tradition, this is a religious service at midnight, and you should have a lot in Tavira, because there are so many churches there.

    Now the sweets. We have at least four or five that are “compulsory”, “bolo-rei”, “filhós”, “sonhos”, “azevias”, “aletria and/or arroz doce” e “salada de fruta”. Bolo Rei, is very good but you need to get it fresh and from a local “pastelaria”, check with the locals where to buy the best one, in albufeira go to Riviera they do it very well, and believe me is not dry when you get a good one, “filhós” and “sonhos” are also very tasty, but again you have to get it fresh or have someone to do it for you. Azevias are a sweet made of pumpkin, or chickpeas or sweet-potato, aletria and arroz doce is a kind of rice pudding, and salada de fruta is the same that you have in England.

    The presents are offered around midnight or in the next day morning, if you manage to keep the kids waiting.

    The 25th , i. e. the next day is to eat the rest of the food and to go to a day out at the seaside, to chat and play with the kids.

    In some places, people still sing the “janeiras” at the beginning of the New Year, and there are also some brave guys that use to celebrate the arrival of a new year with a bath at the sea at the early hours of January the first.

    I hope this helps.

    PS-The turkey in orange sauce is not ours…should be Brazilian…


  6. Just forgot this one.
    To start with bacalhau, I suggest you to go for “bacalhau com natas” or “Bacalhau à Lagareiro”. The bacalhau dish I have described above, migth be too much at this early stage..:-)


  7. Hi CcoR,

    Thank you so much for your detailed suggestions, for which I am really grateful. I think the “com natas” variation is a good one for me to start with, having enjoyed it before – if I have enough I may have a go at “a bras” too 🙂


  8. Hi B
    We would love to move back and plan to do so when circumstances allow (both my parents are in a care home now so we need to be close)if you get chance a walk on the beach on christmas morning is fab, we dit it in alvor and were the only ones on it , it was heaven. Just as a side note i used to help out at a removals company and did one job in Tavira which involved moving two articulated lorrys full of filming gear for one of europes biggest makers of how shall i put it (specialised films !!!!) i found the place to be really pretty particulaly near the iron bridge. we still come back to portugal 2 or 3 times a year and will visit Tavira propperly next time.
    Kind Regards

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