Christmas in Portugal

Published on 12/18/2011 by in Lisbon







As in many other European countries, a Portugal Christmas is a time of gathering with parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins (and any other relatives in town!) for a warm family celebration.

The main holiday celebration takes place on Christmas Eve with a gathering around the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene or Presepio to celebrate the birth of Jesus, followed by “Missa do Galo” or midnight mass services.

For Christmas Eve celebrations, salt cod is the traditional dish, usually served with boiled potatoes and cabbage. Next comes the much-awaited Christmas desserts, which vary from region to region and may include fried felhozes or fritters, rabanadas (often called Portuguese “French toast”) and, of course, the traditional Bolo Rei or King Cake, which can be both a Christmas and New Year’s Eve tradition.

When the Bolo Rei is served, family members wait to see who gets the surprises baked within , usually a coin or toy ring – and another “unlucky” surprise, a raw bean. Whoever gets the bean must buy or make the Bolo Rei the following year!



Christmas Eve is also usually the time in Portugal when Father Christmas arrives to fill the shoes of good little children with toys and treats.

On Christmas Day, meat is most often on the menu, customarily a big stuffed turkey which is of course followed by more holiday sweets.

The festivities end on January 6, on “Dia de Reis” or King’s Day, but not before a festive New Year’s Eve celebration with spectacular fireworks everywhere, along with the traditional eating of 12 raisins, representing one wish for each month of the coming year.


A short list about portuguese Christmas!

Christmas is…

…sending a Christmas Card
…putting a nativity scene in our house!
…getting a decorated tree!
…getting shoes clean and shinny!
…asking presents to Baby Jesus… or Santa Claus.
…getting a “Bolo-Rei” in the centre of our table!
…preparing a Christmas “consoada”!
…making “rabanadas”!
…going to “Missa do Galo”!
…getting together with family!
…wishing “Feliz Natal” – Merry Christmas – to our neighbours!

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