12 Craft Days: Portuguese Christmas Traditions

I don’t even know where I should start. Maybe with putting up the decoration. I hate to miss the 1st of December since it’s a holiday in Portugal no matter if it lands on a weekday or weekend, people are home and free to put up the decorations. I’ve always had a fake tree my entire life, which is the most common. I never knew of a farm selling real Christmas trees and since shop, them is illegal you kind of only have one option. Although until I was about 10 years old my grandmother would chop a wild pine tree that was growing on her own farm. I would get so excited mostly because she would put up little chocolates as ornaments and I was dying to get my hands on them. It does give another feeling to have a real tree instead of a fake. Not only the smell but the aesthetics. I will forever remember my grandmother livingroom with a real pine tree fully decorated with little bows, chocolates and warm lights. Those afternoons watching TV, with the lights on, raining outside and wrapped around a blanket in the sofa are my favourites memories of Christmastime. Now even the weather is different!

Either if you are a religious family or not, I bet every Portuguese had at least one Nativity Scene to display. For me doesn’t mean anything except MINIATURES. Although every year it’s placed next to the Christmas tree. In extravagant years, my mother even goes out to get moss to put on the Nativity Scene, bring out the other characters and houses and build a little village. Once we even made a little lake with ducks!

When it comes to food is when things get different. For starters, the Christmas Eve dinner is ALWAYS codfish with boiled potatoes, cabbage and carrots. If there is something you need to know about the Portuguese people is that they love cod, as much as any other red meat. Although in the north and inner regions of the country is more common to eat lamb. I’ve never tried it but I’m sure is delicious as well. You see, not to brag but the Portuguese cook really tasty food, especially in the north.

King Cake
Click on the image to get the recipe (in portuguese) – from Molinex

It’s great to eat the dinner with family but the best part is the side table full of sweets, cakes, cheeses, cold meats and other appetizers that might come. One thing that can NEVER miss on the table is the King Cake. It’s basically a sweet bread dough mixed with nuts and raisins and decorated with crystallized fruits. I personally don’t like it, because of the raisins and I’m too lazy to scoop them out, so I rather not eat it. It’s still plenty of food on the table to be eating so I can choose. Next, to the cake, I’m sure it’s a bowl of Fried Pumpkin Cakes. They aren’t my favourite but eating a little ball of fried dough covered in sugar and cinnamon makes everything better.

Another cake that never misses on the table is the Egg Lamprey. I know it doesn’t sound delicious but is made with eggs and sugar. I personally don’t like at all since it’s so sweet. While the rest of the comes from its shape. I don’t know who had the brilliant idea of shaping it as a fish or better a lamprey. Even though, I don’t like everyone else is crazy about it. My family doesn’t have a big sweet tooth but I guarantee that by the end of the 25th not even a tiny bit will be left.

“Coscorões” Click on the image to get the recipe (in portuguese) – from Molinex

Without getting to deeper into the traditional sweets since I’m sure the list is much bigger than this, I have to mention my favourite the “coscorões”. I tried to find the translations but I don’t think it has one. It’s a sweet dough flavoured with orange, cut into triangles and fried. Later covered with sugar and cinnamon. They are delicious! Sweet enough, the orange gives a great touch and crispy. Leave me next to them and I’m having a great Christmas. As you can see on Christmas we aren’t healthy, not even close to that.

After eating and going to the sofa unbutton the trousers it’s time for the presents! Since I can remember I think only one year I ask to open the presents early. Usually, we wait until the midnight to start giving the presents. Now try to keep kids stay foot until the time arrives. It’s a headache. After that, it’s time for bed, which only happens about the 2 am since with all the excitement its kind of hard to fall asleep. By the next day, the only thing that we share as a family is the lunch. My family usually stay until dinner time but it isn’t as exciting as the day before, mostly because everyone is with a hangover or so full that lift up from the coach it’s a major challenge.

For lunch, it’s served “Roupa Velha” (old clothes) which are the leftovers of the previous day. The codfish is clean of bones and skin, the potatoes and vegetables are chopped and everything is stirred in a frying pan. Usually, it’s never enough for everyone so it’s served as a side dish. As the main course, I don’t think it exists a traditional one. For the past few years, we have bought Roasted Suckling Pig, which makes the day much more interesting. Unlike the codfish, with this one, you don’t have leftovers. It’s served with a specific hot/peppery sauce and orange slices to cut out the heat. But it’s so good!!! If there is one thing that everyone that comes to Portugal should eat is this! IT’S DELICIOUS!!

For dinner and after two days straight eating nonstop only a soup can prepare you for a good and early night of sleep. And since Christmas is a time of traditions nothing like the most traditional soup in Portugal: Green soup. It’s a basic creamy potato soup with finely chopped cabbage and carrot slices. And please add some chorizo while cooking because it makes everything much better. I think this is a soup that no kid hates to eat. It’s delicious, warms the heart, the chorizo is the best part, to be honest. I love cold meats like most of the Portuguese.

What you can gather from this is that we love to eat and that it’s our tradition. The gifts might be just a few, the decorations poor, the tree with no lights, but for sure the table would be full of delicious food to eat.