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Christmas traditions in Porto and the North of Portugal

Associação Grupo de Caretos de Podence CC BY-NC-ND

In Porto and the North of Portugal, land of traditions, Christmas is a time which takes on a special significance. From religious traditions to pagan traditions and, because it couldn't be otherwise, for its gastronomy, this is a great time of the year to discover the essence of this region. 

Come with us and discover the traditions of Porto and Northern Portugal's regions.

The celebrations begin in early December, with the tradition of preparing the home for the holiday season. Setting up the Christmas tree, decorating it with ornaments and colored ribbons and placing decorations throughout the home are activities that bring the family together and open the "hostilities" of the season.

On the 24th and 25th of December, families get together again, but this time the attention is turned to the dining table and, of course, on celebrating the birth of baby Jesus. Typical Christmas dishes vary depending on where you are in the country, and even in Porto and Northern Portugal, each county has its own traditions.

Codfish is "king" at Minho's tables. For dinner on Christmas Eve, the codfish is boiled, and eaten with potatoes drizzled in olive oil. On Christmas Day, the leftovers from the previous night are used to make "Roupa Velha". On December 25th it's also customary to eat octopus, which was cooked the day before, and also roast lamb, which is one of the main dishes on that day.

In Porto codfish is also a staple dish at Christmas, drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by many vegetables. You'll also find other cod dishes like the "bolinhos de bacalhau" or the "bacalhau com grelos".

As for desserts, the "formigos", pumpkin cakes, "rabanadas", "sonhos", milk custard, "abade de Priscos" pudding and "aletria" (sweet pasta) can't be passed up. The dessert offerings aren't complete without the bolo-rei (king cake).

At this time of year, with low temperatures, the mulled wine, made with red wine, spices and sugar, warms those who come together at the table and sustains them as they wait for the clock to reach midnight on the 24th. This is when the gifts can be opened by the children and its their favorite moment. Some families go to bed earlier on the 24th so that Santa Claus can quietly place the gifts under the Christmas tree during the night.

The "missa do Galo" (or midnight mass), which takes place on the evening of the 24th, brings communities together in their local church. The worship of baby Jesus' cradle and the kissing of his foot are highlights of the season's religious celebrations.

In Trás-os-Montes, on the 25th and 26th of December, is celebrated the "Festa dos Rapazes" (Festival of the Lads). During this celebration, the 16 year old boys go to the streets wearing masks, symbolizing the ritual of entering the adulthood. This is a way to strengthen their bonds with the community and their identity.

Discover some places to spend the night during this holiday trip. There are several rural tourism accomodations which will leave you enchanted and comfortably tucked in during these colder nights. If you need help to plan this trip, please contact us.

Come celebrate Christmas in Porto and Northern Portugal.

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