At Christmas time in Portugal there is an atmosphere of celebration and the most important moments are those that revive the spirit of communion and sharing between family and friends, where being at the dinner table for the “Consoada” is one of the most remarkable moments.
As in other moments of celebration, the food, occupies in Christmas an important place. The delicious typical dishes and sweets for the Christmas night dinner change a little from region to region, from North to South of Portugal, but tend to be more and more similar.
Traditionally, families gather on the December 24th and at the dinner table is eaten cod fish or octopus, served with cooked egg, potato and Portuguese cabbage, although the turkey or the roast rooster and other meat dishes that were savored in the following days already begin to integrate the menus.
For dessert, there is the Bolo-rei filled with candied fruit or nuts (“King cake”), “filhoses”, “sonhos” (traditional deep fried sweet pastry sprinkled with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon) or “rabanadas” (type of French toast), sweet rice and sweet potato pastries, especially in the Algarve.
At midnight, a Mass is celebrated, and in the churches as well as in the houses there is a special place for the nativity scene, the recreation of the stable where Jesus Christ was born, an idea of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, very common in Portugal.
In the Algarve, the preparation of the traditional nativity scene begins on December the 8th, at the Feast of Our Lady of the Conception, where wheat, oats, barley, lentils, corn, and other seeds that are barely germinating will adorn an altar. The oranges, placed in the scene are not only for ornament but also for offering to special friends. Nine days before Christmas, the nativity scene is set up. On top of a dresser, a small throne is placed on a staircase, which imitates the main altar of the church. On the day of Kings, the germinated seeds are transplanted, with votes of good harvests for the coming New Year.
In some regions such as in Bragança, Guarda or Castelo Branco, a wood is still burned during the night, in a large bonfire in the churchyard, that serves as a meeting point to gather friends and neighbors and wish a Merry Christmas.
On the 8th of January, the Day of the Kings, the festivities ends with the “Janeiras”. In the street or in national monuments and churches, these traditional songs are heard to wish for a Happy New Year.
By the way, what are the Christmas traditions of your region?