We love Christmas in the UK, from over the top Christmas decorations to the big pile of presents, we can’t help celebrating in style! We all have our own unique traditions and ways of celebrating Christmas, and it can be fascinating to discover more about other countries and how to mark the festive season. We caught up with Susana Santos, Event Manager for our private dining service on the Algarve to find out more about the traditions, festive cuisine and how her family celebrate this time of year …

We start our celebrations on Christmas Eve, when Father Christmas (Pai Natal) is believed to bring presents to the children. The presents are left under the tree or sometimes in shoes by the fireplace. Some families believe that the presents are brought by baby Jesus rather than Father Christmas. The children either open their presents on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning as soon as they wake up.

Our traditional meal in Portugal is called ‘Consada’ which we eat on Christmas Eve. Consada is cod with green vegetables, boiled potatoes, chick peas and eggs. This is then followed by shellfish, wild meats and other luxury treats.

After we’ve eaten we all then go to church for the ‘Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster) service. An image of baby Jesus is brought out during the service and everyone gathers to kiss it and then it is placed in the Nativity scene (Presépio). After the service we all return home to open our gifts.

Before leaving for the service, parents secretly put baby Jesus in the Nativity scene in their home and place gifts under the Christmas tree, so that Jesus will have appeared in his manger by the time the family returns home. Children race to check the Nativity scene as soon as they get home as no baby Jesus means no presents!

The Nativity scene (Presépio) is the traditional Christmas decoration in Portugal. Most families have a small scene with just the holy family, whilst some have dozens of characters including the holy family, different animals, the three kings, shepherds, farmers and folk characters. The children really enjoy making the Nativity scene by collecting moss to make the grass and arranging the figures.

When it comes to traditional Christmas cuisine, we can’t forget about all the sweet treats that we indulge in at Christmas time! Each region in Portugal has its own selection of desserts. In the Northern province of Minho, there’s rich desserts made with eggs ‘Lampreia de ovos’ (sugary egg yolks made in the shape of a fish). Or a more simple and traditional rice pudding! French toast (Rabanadas) is popular throughout the country as are fried dough desserts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon called Filhós. This dessert changes slightly depending on which region you are in, for example in the Alentejo region they make them with grated carrots and shape them in to small balls. In the Beira region they are flat and round and made with just flour, water and sometimes some orange or lemon zest to flavour the dough.

The traditional Christmas cake is called ‘Bolo Rei’ (King’s Cake) and is placed in the centre of the table in every home. There is also a version of the cake that doesn’t contain candied fruit called the ‘Bolo Rainha’. Traditionally a broad bean and a small gift are hidden in the cake. If you find the token gift you’re allowed to keep it, however, if you find the broad bean, you must pay for next year’s Bolo Rei!

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a glass of our famous porto wine. We also sample traditional liquors and eat plenty of ‘Azevias’ and ‘Felhozes’ (Portuguese biscuits and sweets). Our parties usually last until the early hours of the morning, we love to celebrate Christmas here on the Algarve!

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to find out more about Christmas on the Algarve.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Feliz Navidad!