Today I bring you a list of 10 things that are traditional for Portuguese people to experience over the December holidays! Get ready to be swept up in Portuguese holiday cheer! (:
The king of all fish for the Portuguese (even though we catch it in Norway), you can’t be a true Portuguese national without having a very strong opinion about [o] bacalhau. Most people love it (I know I do), others can’t be bothered with it, and some simply don’t care that much for it. The Christmas Eve ([a] Consoada) dinner/supper usually involves some kind of bacalhau recipe (or any other fish, if you’re not into it). My favourite is bacalhau com batatas a murro, grilled or oven-cooked bacalhau topped with smashed roasted potatoes with their skins still on.
The major streets from cities big and small come alive (and alight) over the December holidays, with special light fixtures being placed there for everyone to see and to let them know it’s time to enjoy the season! Bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto have recently picked up on the trend of displaying video through a projector in major buildings with a seasonal theme (this is also done in other parts of the year, with different subjects).
If bacalhau is the king of Portuguese fish, then [o] bolo-rei (lit. “king cake”) is obviously the monarch of Portuguese desserts! It’s not for everybody (especially if you’re not a fan of candied fruit, which is my case), but it’s still a tasty, colourful treat to have on your Christmas table. There’s also a fruitless variety with various nuts called bolo-rainha (lit. “queen cake”) if you don’t want to have the trouble of picking out the fruit, so there’s no excuse for you not to try it at least once if you happen to be in the country over the holidays!
4. Outras sobremesas
If you know Portuguese food, you’ll know we love our desserts; some of our dishes are world famous for their secretive recipes or weird backstories (for example, there’s a whole series of sweet dishes created by nuns many centuries ago, what we call [a] doçaria conventual, lit. “convent desserts”). There are several desserts people commonly eat over the December holidays, like rabanadas [french toast, Portuguese-style], sonhos (lit. “dreams“, little puffy balls of fried batter), [as] filhoses (singular filhós, a light, deep-fried flour and egg dumpling) and various kinds of puddings! My favourite is [o] molotof, which are whipped egg whites later baked in a pudding round tray topped with caramel :) It literally dissolves in your mouth, so be careful not to eat too much (unless you have a fitness plan for the new year, that is!) ;)
What would Christmas be without songs? I mean, it’s one thing to see the lights shining on the streets and noticing the mall Santas, but listening to a familiar Christmas song will surely get you into a cheerful (or at least wistful) mood straight away! Besides the regular English staples like “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Last Christmas” (or Portuguese versions of classic songs like “Silent Night”, like “Noite Feliz”) we also have our songs, like “A Todos um Bom Natal” (To all a Merry Christmas).
Pretty obvious, since we’re also not immune to the consumerist impulses that are thrown at us by all kinds of retailers! Having a big bonus on your salary doesn’t help making smart decisions either, so this is a time to spend some money (and as wisely as possible)! Truth be told, it’s also a good opportunity to show someone you cared enough to think of them during that time of year, and a good gift doesn’t even have to be something you can buy: spending time with someone, or letting them know you wish them well at the end of the year, is usually a big enough gift :)
7. Desejos de ano novo
Portuguese people love celebrating the new year! The week between Christmas and the 31st is spend almost in a state of stasis, hopefully with your New Year’s plans already in place so that you don’t have to spend it at home or alone (which is a bit safer, but not what the New Year’s should be about hahaha). In any case, it’s as good a time as any to start thinking about what you hope the new year will bring you, and a great time to start new activities before you turn them into New Year’s Resolutions and quickly forget about them / get bored with them!
So take the advice of a serious Portuguese procrastinator – that thing you were dying to do over the whole year and never brought yourself to do it because of a million convoluted reasons not even you understand? Start doing it before the New Year, that way you have no excuse not to do it in January! I think I’m gonna sign up for tennis lessons – I need the workout and I love the sport, so why not? I won’t let laziness beat me on Saturdays, not any more! (note to self a year later: what are you waiting for to sign up for those lessons? Stop being lazy and get on with it!)
8. Passas e champanhe
I’ve talked about the next two items on my post about [a] Passagem de Ano (New Year’s Eve) last year. One of our silly traditions for the New Year is to eat 12 raisins, each one representing one month of the year (duh) – we’re literally placing our bets of a good year on a shriveled grape, but at least we don’t have to eat whole, plump grapes at every New Year’s gong like the Spanish! :) If you’re not into raisins, have at least a bottle of champagne close by to toast with your friends and/or family. More than the moment itself, the literal turn of the year, it’s the people you spend with it that matters – but more on that in a moment…
9. Fogo de artifício
Big fireworks displays are also a staple of New Year’s celebrations all over the country, with the most impressive ones being on Lisbon, Porto and Funchal (on Madeira island); the latter is routinely touted as the largest fireworks display in the world, and the city keeps trying to make it bigger every year. Many people travel to these big cities specifically for the Réveillon celebrations, with the fireworks being their centerpiece. You can see the whole sky light up for many kilometres as soon as the clocks strikes midnight, starting the new year in an explosion of colours that should be matched on the ground with the clinks of the champagne glasses and the general cheer of the new year’s wishes!
10. Família e amigos
In the end, all these celebrations should just be an excuse to spend some time with the people you love: whether family, friends, or romantic partners, the holidays are a chance to recharge your batteries by enjoying yourself with other people who love you too! I hope you all have a chance to be with your loved ones this year – you deserve it :)