Christmas Traditions: How the festive season in Portugal differs from the UK

“Rabanadas” – A Portuguese French toast with warm wine and honey syrup poured over them.

The Portuguese Christmas is very different from that in the UK.

The first difference, of course, is that Portugal has a gigantic yellow ball in the sky all year long — they call it the Sun! And that is no different at Christmas than the other 364 days.

But that is not the only different aspect of Portuguese Culture. The whole Christmas celebration is completely different.

We look at some of those differences here:

1. Food

The traditional British Christmas dinner has a variety of flavours. Mince pies (sweet mince, of course) and Christmas cake or pudding are the traditional desserts, and turkey is usually the main dish. In Portugal, however, the tradition is to eat cod or lamb for the main dish, and for dessert “Bolo do Rei” (Cake of the King) is normally the choice.

Other desserts like “Rabanadas” are also very prominent in the Portuguese tables.

2. Decorations

Mistletoe is something that you would see in Britain. Although some families join the fun by decorating their houses with it, the Portuguese Christmas tradition doesn’t include it.

Carols are also not part of the Portuguese tradition. They do sing Christmas songs, but they don’t hold events for them. Instead, churches usually put up Christmas scenes relating to the true story of Christmas.

“Presépio” or Nativity Scene is a Portuguese decoration often seen in several places. It consists of a miniature representation of the stable where Jesus was born.

3. “Missa do Galo” (Mass of the Rooster)

Mass of the Rooster is a very old Portuguese tradition where families would go to church after the Christmas meal (which is in the evening) and then kiss a photo of baby Jesus. After the service they will return home and open the presents. This is now becoming a lost tradition, and most families don’t go thought it.

4. The fun after Christmas

In Portugal, Christmas Eve is always celebrated with the whole family. On Christmas Day, families continue to spend the day together. Their is normally too much food for just Christmas Eve, so the leftovers are used for lunch the next day. Families spend the whole day together sometimes going to see Christmas decorations or enjoying the ice rinks.

“Presépio” in Monsaraz, Portugal

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