“Feliz Natal” or “Boas Festas” translates to “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”! The Holiday season in Portugal is celebrated as a time for family, of giving and sharing.
The Portuguese have their main Christmas celebrations on the evening of the 24th December. All generations of the family gather for a family dinner known as the night of the “Consoada”. The word Consoada refers to a small meal that is taken at the end of a day´s fasting and derives from the Latin word consolare, meaning “to comfort”. Dinner is usually Bacalhau (the salted cod that can be served 365 different ways!) with green vegetables and boiled potatoes followed by the traditional Christmas cake called the Bolo Rei (King Cake).
The meal tends to finish very late and then is followed by midnight Mass. The Christmas gifts are given to each other after the church service or at midnight - much to the delight of the children!
Father Christmas - 'Pai Natal' - is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. The presents are left under the Christmas tree or in shoes by the fireplace. However, some people say that the presents are brought by the Baby Jesus rather than Father Christmas.
Before leaving for the service, parents secretly put the baby Jesus in the nativity scene in their houses and put the gifts under the Christmas tree, so that Jesus will 'miraculously' be in his manger by the time the family returns home! Children run to check the nativity scene as soon as they enter the house as no baby Jesus means no presents!
Christmas day for the Portuguese is a much more low-key affair, similar to the British Boxing Day with rabbit, duck, pork or lamb for dinner. And all family members are expected to go to church.
Christmas trees are common now, but not everyone had a tree until around the 1970’s. However, the Nativity Scene (or Presépio) is the traditional Christmas decoration in Portugal, and most families will have a small one with just the holy family and the animals.
One of the best things about Christmas in Portugal is the miles of deserted, golden sandy beaches glistening in the sun calling for you to enjoy a leisurely stroll!