What to do

The Christmas tradition in northern Portugal

NTD Specialized Tourism CC BY-NC-ND NTD Porto City Council

Christmas is one of the most important traditions in the northern region of Portugal.

Preparations start in mid-December and it lasts until the Epiphany on 6 January.

On the night of the 24th, families gather and prepare for an evening party around a fully laden table that differs from region to region.

The Christmas Eve meal in northern Portugal will consists of, for example, either turkey, roasted or stuffed with chestnuts, or octopus and cod, the king of the Christmas Eve supper in Minho.

It comes accompanied by potatoes and collard greens that are always drizzled with the best homemade olive oil for dipping bread into.

This is followed by a banquet of desserts and pastries that would overwhelm any diet.

Vermicelli pudding, wine or milk ‘mexidos’, French toast in syrup or with a sweet egg cream, rice pudding, ‘bolo-rei’ (the ‘King cake’ that takes centre stage) and pumpkin scones are some examples of the most traditional and eagerly anticipated treats found on the tables of the North.

At the midnight on the evening of the 24th families will usually go to Midnight Mass together at their local church.

During the mass the crib is admired and after communion everyone goes to the altar to kiss the baby Jesus.

The 25 December always begins with excited children opening the presents left for them during the night by the baby Jesus (which are in fact brought by the parents for an additional moment of sharing).

At lunch, the leftovers from the night before are eaten in a dish called ‘Roupa Velha’ (‘Old Clothes’), and the rest of the day is spent with the family until it is time for dinner.

In the meantime, almonds, hazelnuts, figs, raisins, branches of holly, assorted desserts and coloured ribbons are left on the table to snack on between meals.

In addition to Christmas there are other religious and pagan celebrations that also offer an excellent opportunity to better understand the culture and traditions of northern Portugal.

Learn more here about the festivals and traditions of this part of Portugal.

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