5 Portuguese Christmas Traditions That You Didn’t Know

The birth of Jesus is celebrated on Christmas day, on December, 25th. In this article, I want to share with you some of the traditions of Portugal on this day. Even though our country is small, there are many customs and traditions that vary from one region to another. I want to introduce you to some of the most interesting stories. Who knows? Maybe this year will be the year we bring back these ancient traditions that have probably been forgotten.

We all know that the most important and essential thing we all wish for on Christmas day is peace, love and to be with our dearest ones. Together as one, we ask for peace, health and joy. We get feelings of generosity, our hearts are filled with love and warmth at the idea of being together with all the people we love the most. It is the time of the year during which we think a little more about others and we’re more available to help and sensitive to the little details. It’s the opportunity for us to refocus on what truly matters.

Although Christmas is now a commercialised celebration, some families still stick to the traditions, which is why I’ve decided to share with you some that are still being practised in Portugal. Read on and find out 5 Portuguese Christmas traditions that you didn’t know!

Decorating your table with an azevinho

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The azevinho, which is known as Holly in English, is a bush usually found in Europe. It grows slowly and only blossoms during the winter. The azevinho is a traditional element to the Christmas decorations because it symbolizes love, hope and protection as well. Before Christianity, it already was considered to be a sacred plant in many cultures and religions.

Unfortunately, due to the current deforestation, it is now pretty difficult to find this plant and its harvest and cutting is forbidden by law. I recommend you to get an azevinho for your garden if you can. This way, you will never go out of love, hope and protection!

Going to Missa do Galo

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One of the most important events of Catholic Church is the Missa do Galo, which literally translates to the “Rooster’s Mass” in English. This mass is celebrated at midnight, on the night of December, 24th to make known the birth of Jesus.

This mass got its name from the legend that says that a rooster crowed at midnight to signal the the coming of the Messiah.

After the mass, the tradition wants the families to get back home and put the baby Jesus figure in the Christmas crib and start exchanging gifts.

Build a Presépio with your children

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For most Christians, Christmas means the birth of Jesus. Building a presépio, which is a Chritmas crib, underneath the Christmas tree is one of the most common Christmas traditions. The nativity scene is to recreate the birth of baby Jesus in a stable.

The presépio is typically composed of six main figures, Maria, José, baby Jesus, the three Wise Men. Some presépios also have a donkey and a bull, close to the baby Jesus to keep him warm. The presence of the animals are to make reference to the fact that Jesus wasn’t born in fancy palaces but in a simple place surrounded by animals.

Some families like to be creative and include even more elements to their presépio.

In 2013, Portugal joined the Guiness Book of Records by presenting the biggest presépio. The purpose of the presépio is to tell the story of the birth of baby Jesus. It is believed that the first recreations were made during the third century. It is a great activity to get your children involved and interested in Christmas.

Get together with your neighbors

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In some regions, like Bragança, Guarda and Castelo Branco, people still light a gigantic fire during the night of December, 24th, on the Church’s square or a city square. It serves as a meeting point for friends and neighbors to get together and wish each other a merry christmas. If you want to participate in this tradition, visit the town of Cabeça in Seia.

Eating Bolo-rei

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Not a single Christmas table goes without a Bolo-rei. It is consumed between Christmas and the Three Wise Men Day, which happens on January, 8th.

The bolo-rei is round-shaped, with a hole in its middle, topped with crystalized fruits and nuts inside. It is so delicious and goes great with a coffee or a cup of tea. In the past, this cake used to have a little gift inside, but it was forbidden by the European Union for purposes of safety. In accordance with the tradition, whoever ate the slice of cake that contained the gift would have to buy the next cake in the following year.

Nowadays, many people don’t eat crystalized fruits, so there are now several versions of the bolo-rei, for instance the bolo-rainha, which means “Queen’s cake”, that is only made with nuts, almonds and cashews, or the chocolate bolo-rei.

My article about the 5 Portuguese christmas traditions that you didn’t know has now come to an end. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that it has inspired you. Since Christianity is one of the oldest religions in the world, Portugal also has many ancient Christmas traditions you need to know about in case you’re spending Christmas in Portugal. Christmas is originally about celebrating the birth of Jesus, but it has gained a deeper meaning. We now associate this celebration to love, peace and affection and to spending time with the ones we love. During this warm-hearted time of the year, cherish every moment and appreciate the time you spend with your family. It is important for us to feel grateful to have them in our lives. Not everyone has the chance to have a warm home to go to on Christmas night. Hug them, give them kisses, show them your affection and give them thoughtful gifts. Celebrate what Christmas is about. Celebrate love. Celebrate life. Celebrate peace. I hope to see you in Lisbon! Also, check our blog, I’m sure you will find many useful articles for you to read!

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