Christmas in Portugal: Facts About Portuguese Christmas Traditions

According to numbers published by the Pew Research Center in 2021, more than 75% of the population of Portugal identifies as Roman Catholic. As a result, Christmas is celebrated throughout Portugal, and many Portuguese Christmas traditions have developed over the years.

Christmas Presents in Portugal

  • Santa or Father Christmas is known as Pai Natal in Portugal, and unlike in the UK and the US, he is said to bring children presents to be opened on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. Pai Natal leaves Christmas gifts under the Christmas tree or in shoes placed by the fireplace.
  • Some people in Portugal say that Christmas presents are brought by the Baby Jesus and not Pai Natal (Father Christmas).

Traditional Christmas Food in Portugal

  • The traditional Christmas meal in Portugal is called Consoada. It is eaten by families on Christmas Eve, and it includes cod (bacalhau), green vegetables, boiled potatoes, and boiled eggs.
  • Sometimes this meal is accompanied by octopus and shellfish. In some Portuguese households, turkey is eaten during the Christmas period.
  • Popular Portuguese Christmas desserts include Lampreia de ovos (an egg-based dessert served in the shape of a fish), rice pudding, and Filhos (dough balls flavored and decorated with fruit).
  • The traditional Christmas cake of Portugal is known as Bolo Rei (King Cake). A gift and a broad bean are often hidden in the middle of the cake. The finder of the gift is allowed to keep it, but the finder of the broad bean must either make or pay for next year’s Bolo Rei.
  • Portuguese families eat Portuguese biscuits (azevias) and sweets (felhozes) around Christmas, and the adults drink port, wine, and ginjinha (an alcoholic drink made from sour cherries). Sweet oval-shaped biscuits called broas de natal are also popular. These are made from sweet potatoes, almonds, and sugar.
  • At Christmas time, many Portugeuse tables are decorated with azevinho (holly).

Portuguese Christmas Church Services

  • After their Christmas Eve meal, many Portuguese families attend the midnight Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster) service at their local church. During the service, an image of the baby Jesus is presented and placed in the church’s nativity scene. Once the service has concluded, people return home to open their presents.
  • Many families have two present opening sessions, one directly after the Missa do Galo service, and another one on Christmas Day.

Christmas Decorations in Portugal

  • The Christmas nativity scene (Presepio) is an incredibly important part of a Portuguese Christmas. Some family nativity decoration sets include dozens of figures and animals, and they are added to by using moss and other natural elements to add detail to the scene.
  • In some households, presents are not to be opened until the baby Jesus figure has been placed into the nativity scene.
  • Many shops incorporate nativity scenes into their window displays, and local communities install giant ones along roadsides and on roundabouts. Live nativity scenes are also common, and they are a key part of the Christmas celebrations in communities all over the country.
  • In 2012, the town of San Paio de Oleiros set a world record for the largest moving nativity scene.
  • Although not a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in Portugal, since the 1970s Christmas trees have become much more commonplace.

Other Christmas Traditions in Portugal

  • In Braga on Christmas Eve people celebrate by eating bananas and drinking glasses of muscatel.
  • Obidos was the home to Portugal’s first Christmas Village, but now more and more towns and villages are hosting their own Christmas markets. In Lisbon, the biggest one is located in Eduardo VII.
  • In some parts of Portugal such as Guarda and Castelo Branco, large outdoor communal fires are lit on Christmas Eve, giving the community a chance to get together and wish each other a happy Christmas.
  • It is claimed that the Christmas tree in the city of Viana do Castelo is the largest one in Europe.
  • Christmas celebrations officially end in Portugal on 6th January.