Yes, the weather is mild and palm trees alongside Christmas decorations might feel strange to some, but that doesn’t mean that the holiday spirit isn’t in full force here in the Algarve. Portuguese traditions, festivities, and plenty of good food collide to make for a jolly holiday season. We consulted our Mimo Algarve team of experts to get the lowdown on what the holidays are like in this corner of the world.
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Christmas fairs and markets (and roasted chestnut sellers scenting up the town!) start popping up in December, selling food, wine, arts, and crafts. These colorful, festive markets are a good place to buy traditional handcrafted gifts and to start getting into the holiday spirit. The presépio, or nativity scene, is most common holiday décor, though Christmas trees are popular too – but definitely not the star of the show. Most families have a small presépio in their homes, and you’ll see them pretty much everywhere – even roadside and adorning roundabouts. Presépios can get very elaborate, with an array of characters, lights, and all kinds of extras.
There are plenty of desserts sweetening up the holidays. Local ingredients play a large role: dried figs are flattened into star shapes, decorated with almonds, and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon (or the figs are stuffed with these ingredients). Rabanadas are another typical dessert enjoyed at Christmas, a kind of cinnamon French toast that also goes by the name of fatias douradas, or golden slices.
Cinnamon sugar plays a role in other holiday sweets, like filhoses or filhós, which are basically Portuguese doughnuts. These bites of fried dough are coated in cinnamon sugar and they’re sometimes made with pumpkin for a particularly seasonal touch. Azevias are an interesting sweet, a kind of fried (or sometimes baked) pocket of dough with a sweet chickpea filling flavored with cinnamon and orange or lemon peel. Alternative fillings include sweet potato or white bean. Other desserts making an appearance around this time include arroz doce, rice pudding, and its pasta equivalent, aletrias, or sweet vermicelli pasta.
Like across much of Europe, the 24th of December is the main event here, celebrated by feasting of course. The traditional Christmas Eve meal is called Consoada. It’s no surprise that the king at the table is cod, the quintessential ingredient in Portuguese cuisine, though up in the north, many people eat octopus instead. It’s accompanied by other regional staples, like potatoes and cabbage, and most people abstain from meat on this day, as tradition entails. All of this feasting is soaked in plenty of wine – especially port — as well as traditional liqueurs.
Dinner ends with a regal dessert – a traditional Christmas fruitcake called the Bolo Rei (king cake). This ring-shaped cake is studded with nuts and raisins and topped with colorful crystallized and dried fruit. Some people hide a fava bean and a little gift in the cake. If you find the fava bean, you have the “pleasure” of paying for the next year’s Bolo Rei. This tradition comes from the legend that the Three Kings put a fava bean into a cake to decide which one of them would be the first to enter the stable where Jesus was born.
After Christmas Eve dinner, people head out to the midnight mass, Missa do Galo or Mass of the Rooster. Baby Jesus is placed into the presépio at this time, and everyone goes up to the altar to kiss him. After mass, Pai Natal, Father Christmas, is said to bring the gifts along with the help of Baby Jesus.
Christmas Day is a more low-key affair compared to the prior feasting and festivities. There’s still lots of good food left to be eaten, traditionally baby goat (cabrito), although turkey is gaining popularity. A yule log, cepo de Natal, keeps the fireplace blazing and the house cozy, and some save this ash to protect their home from lightning strikes. There are lots of other such rites and rituals that play a role in some homes, like putting oranges on the table for good fortune, or setting extra places at the table or throwing crumbs into the fireplace in remembrance of the souls of the dead.
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Os pratos tipicos de Natal de Norte a Sul de Portugal Natal em Portugal é sempre com temperaturas muito baixas e no frio intenso nada melhor que uma boa lareira e um vinho para aquecer. Mas o que mais aquece é a família portuguesa, que se reúnem com os avós, as crianças e toda família celebram o nascimento de Jesus. A consoada ou ceia reúnem em volta de uma mesa onde não pode faltar a tradição e a cultura. Região de Entre Douro e Minho Consoada: a noite começa com o bacalhau da consoada ou polvo cozido, servido com ovo, batata e couve portuguesa cozida. A aguardar pela hora da missa do galo, o Vinho quente é a companhia perfeita. Almoço de Natal: ao almoço, a entrada é de Roupa Velha de Bacalhau, seguido do peru assado recheado com creme de castanhas ou um prato de cabrito assado no forno com batatas assadas. Doces: nesta região, as rabanadas e as filhós nunca faltam na mesa de Natal que podem ser servidas com calda de açúcar, acompanhadas da travessa de aletria, os bolinhos de bolina, os mexidos de leite ou vinho e os ricos frutos secos (amêndoas, avelãs, figos e passas). #alemmarturismo #natalemportugal #turismodequalidade #viajandocomruiemarina #portugal
Portugal has its own version of caroling, but it takes place after Christmas (and never before!) and into January. Groups wander from house to house singing Janeiras songs, January songs. They’re usually invited into homes and welcomed with treats like dried figs stuffed with walnuts, cheese, and chouriço, plus wine and brandy, of course. When food and drink expectations aren’t met, the carolers might show their disappointment with a song mocking the homeowners.
While Spain has its 12 grapes at midnight, Portugal has raisins and sparkling wine. When the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, one raisin is to be eaten with every bell toll, and one wish made for each of the next 12 months. Fireworks light up the sky (especially along the coast) and some people bang pots and pans to ward off evil spirits. Common fare for New Year’s is caldo verde and broa, a traditional collard green soup accompanied with corn bread.