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Northern Portugal: Christmas in Minho!

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Minho is a region rich in traditions. At Christmas people gather their families and celebrate this festive period with some traditional dishes. There are dishes which you will find on every table and customs which are repeated every year, keeping alive traditions which were passed down from our ancestors. Do you want to find out a little more about Christmas in Minho? Come with us on this journey full of traditions.

Christmas in Minho is synonymous with salted cod on the table, always accompanied by boiled octopus, potatoes and kale. Oil is always available to give a touch of flavour, and there’s always plenty of bread. The table is decorated in this way. As the night goes on, warm wine comforts your stomach and warms the night, already warm-hearted in itself.

Here, Christmas only makes sense with the family. And it is as a family that everybody gathers in the kitchen to help organise the Christmas dinner. Washing the dishes for some, decorating for others, and the food is left to those who really know how to cook. One of the men of the family is in charge of preparing the warm wine. The recipe is: red wine, boiled with honey and cinnamon sticks. It is served in teacups. Between conversations, nibbles and a drink or two, the night continues until sleep takes hold of everyone.

The next morning is for the children, who wake very early to search for their presents. They run through the house towards the fireplace to find out what presents they have in their little shoes. Their excitement is plain to see! Ripped paper lies everywhere, and new toys are tested with intense happiness and enjoyment.

A very important element of Christmas amongst the families of Minho is the Nativity scene, which sometimes takes several days to prepare and resembles a true work of art. The Nativity scene is made with several natural materials, which are used to decorate the backdrop. So, several days before Christmas it is customary for residents of Minho to go to the hills to look for pine cones, moss and plants which they find in the wild to use to assemble their Nativity scene.

It is traditional to show the Nativity scene to any visitors who pass by the house in the Christmas period. And it is also traditional to decorate the Christmas tree with striking baubles and chocolates hanging from the branches. Many of these chocolates were from the Vienense factory, one of the oldest in Portugal. For many, these chocolates were a Christmas present, a sweet gift.

It is usual for lunch to be “roupa velha” Do you know what that is? The name “roupa velha” is given to the leftovers from the Christmas supper. The rest of the day is spent with the family, making the most of seeing those who are missed at other times of the year.

Lunch on Christmas day is the responsibility of the women of the house. They are in charge of decorating the lunch table, with a table cloth made of embroidered linen, passed down through the generations. The table is decorated with holly and some fruits and nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, figs and currants. The best glasses and dishes are taken out from the cupboards. It is a festive day, one of the most important of the year for the people of Minho.

Roast turkey is an essential part of the Christmas lunch, along with chestnut puree. And the options for dessert are many. The table is full, and the desserts are plentiful, irresistible for the greediest. Vermicelli, French toasts, rice pudding, King’s Cake, sponge cake, custard, candied pastries, pumpkin or squash cakes. Is your mouth watering? It’ll be difficult to choose just one.

It’s a family party. For reliving other Christmases, but also for savouring the passing of yet another year and for bringing together those whom your heart needs most. The tradition remains what it once was, and it is sure that Minho truly smells of Christmas.

This is a very nice time to visit the northern region, and you’re sure to fall in love with everything which forms part of the Christmas celebration in Minho. Would you like to know more about Minho’s traditions? Don’t know where to stay yet? We can help! What’s your Christmas usually like? Come and discover ours!

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