The holidays are very important to the Portuguese. They are a time of family, of light. Of giving and of song. Scenes of the Nativity, or the Crèche, are seen in every small town and house. Some towns mount a living Nativity Scene, with locals in all the key parts, and animals all set around the birth of Christ.
On Christmas Eve, a family dinner or "Consoada" is celebrated with boiled codfish and potatoes with cabbage and other vegetables. After the meal, people eat traditional fried desserts: "filhoses or filhós" are made of fried pumpkin dough; "rabanadas" bread that is mixed with egg and syrup; "azevias" are round cakes made of a crust filled with a mixture of chick peas, sugar, and orange peel; "aletria" is a vermicelli sweet with eggs, typical of Norte region.
During the holiday season towns are decorated with lights. The festivities end on January 6, "Dia de Reis."
The Janeiras is a Portuguese tradition consists of a group of people strolling the streets of a town singing in the New Year. To the modern eye, Janeiras is like Christmas caroling as this tradition involves a group of friends or neighbors going from house to house singing and sometimes playing instruments.
Traditionally, people go out to the streets to sing Janeiras between December 25 and January 6. While singing, they review the most important events of the year with a spirit of happiness and great humor.
Once the song is done the singers are rewarded with chestnuts, nuts, apples, and cured sausages. These days, chocolates are often offered too. The Janeiras tradition varies from region to region. In the Algarve, residents form charolas, which are spontaneously formed groups that join together to sing songs of both a religious and a secular nature. Also in the Algarve, singers receive traditional alms such as one of the seasonal sweet fritters or a glass of brandy. Every year, the municipality of Silves has a festival in January to welcome in the New Year by singing.
The Janeiras songs will vary from town to town, but one version is: Let us sing the janeiras For the field in which we travel The wind comes and luck changes And snow falls in the hills, And only memories remain of the old trails.
In addition, Portugal has a variety of holiday desserts that differ from region to region. Bolo Rei (King Cake) is a particular favorite of the Portuguese during Christmas and is traditionally eaten on January 6, during Epiphany. It is a round cake glazed with fruits, nuts and sugar. Whoever gets the bean has to buy the "Bolo Rei" (King Cake) in the coming year.
Largest Living Creche in PortugalThe walled Centro town of Penela will offer Portugal's largest living Creche, with locals in the rolls of the family of Christ, Shepard, and onlookers, recreating the Nativity Scene in Bethlehem. The Living Creche is open to the public from December 12th to January 03, 2010.
To add to the celebration, the town will hold a Creche contest for popular and traditional Creches - and all entries will be on display as well. The making of Creches is a part of Portuguese popular culture, dating back centuries.
Creches by Machado de Castro, born near Penela in Coimbra, are considered today high art. Machado de Castro had an art school in Coimbra where the main art museum named in his honor. A major holiday tradition in Penal and around the country is setting up the Creche. The materials for the Creche are often collected by children. While some families revel in displaying an elaborate scene with not only the three main figures but also the Three Wise Kings, the shepherd and the sheep, complete with lakes (made with mirrors) and hills (made with rocks, moss, and clay).
Penela's castle was built on a hill to protect Coimbra to the north. The origins of the name of the town, according to a legend, date to King D. Afonso Henriques leading his troops in storming the town: Coragem! Já estamos com o pé nela! (Courage! We have a foothold!). See pictures and video.