Unusual Portuguese Christmas traditions not to miss

Looking at the unusual Portuguese Christmas traditions throughout the country. 

Unusual Christmas traditions you can't miss in Portugal

Caretos de Varge

The first of many unusual Portuguese Christmas traditions is the Caretos de Varge are part of an old tradition in Trás-os-Montes, specifically in the town of Varge, that celebrates the Winter Solstice.

This unique Portuguese Christmas tradition involves single village boys who gather on the 24th to prepare everything for Christmas Day.

On 25th December, they run around town dressed as Caretos, with pagan masks, jumping, screaming and teasing to create chaos and the idea that the cold is going away so that everyone can have fun again.

Amidst all this they sing “loas”, songs that ridicule and critique the villagers and their ways, and they go from house to house eating their way through the offerings people make.

At the end of the day, there traditionally is a race which finishes with a dinner and dance where the girls and boys of the town are reunited in a symbolic union.

Guinness world record! In Santa Maria da Feira

Did you know that Portugal holds the Guiness World Record for the most mechanical figures in a nativity scene? 162 (!!) Moving figures were achieved by Manuel Jacinto (Portugal), in Santa Maria da Feira, on 10 November 2013. 

It shows you how popular nativities or Presepios are here in Portugal. Now the Christmas season is upon us – Throughout the country there are many unique and fascinating things to see if you are on a road trip… take for example…

Bananeiro! Eat a banana and drink!

What!? I hear you say, I did say unusual Portuguese Christmas traditions – It is true, thousands of people in Braga in the North of Portugal take advantage of this moment to exchange Happy Holidays wishes with each other.

With a banana in one hand and a glass of muscat in the other, people don’t miss the chance to welcome the Christmas spirit with bananas!

So if you’ve got one of our vans this holiday season be sure to drop by.

More records at Christmas time!

Portugal has another record at Christmas time. This time for Europe’s largest Christmas tree!

In Viana do Castelo they used to decorate this huge natural Christmas tree.

In 2018, the Viana do Castelo City Council decided to give up the lighting of the largest natural Christmas tree in Europe, the 50 metre tree which shone for more than 20 years, to preserve a “classified example, a city heritage”. The branches were too weak to risk it. 

However Viana do Castelo is still a great Christmas place to visit as they have a fabulous light show, check out this years on Youtube below, each year is unique and fascinating to watch whilst bringing in the Christmas cheer.

They really light up Viana do Castelo, it’s beautiful.

Come and see for yourselves with a van this Christmas.

Magusto da Velha

Legend has it that, in the 17th century, a very wealthy Old Woman who owned the large “Quinta do Lagar de Azeite”, in the village of Porco, left a Will to the Church in which there was an “obligation” to distribute chestnuts (the main food to the season) and wine to the people. In exchange for the gift, the people had to pray “an Our Father” in the Church for her soul.

This unusual Christmas Portuguese tradition is still what it was and, once again, Aldeia Viçosa, near Guarda (formerly called Porco) will host the traditional Magusto da Velha, on December 26th.

On the date after Christmas, 150 kilos of chestnuts will be thrown from the Church Tower and 50 liters of wine will be distributed to the people, after the Mass for the Soul of the Old Woman, at 2.30 pm.

Definitely a unique Christmas tradition in Portugal and sounds like a lot of fun. 

Portuguese Christmas time

So as you have seen there are some interesting things to see and so at Christmas time in Portugal. They do have some more usual activities but with a slight difference to typical British and American traditions. 

Many Portuguese families celebrate Christmas Eve and have dinner which consists of salted cod. Some familiies will exchange presents at midnight that night and some wait for Christmas morning.  For dessert, you can not miss the Bolo-Rei, filled with candied fruits or dried fruits, in addition to other typical cakes of the time such as broas castelares and traditional yummy food such as my family’s favourite rabanadas (french toast).

On December 25th, the tradition is to have stuffed turkey as well as all the things with a roast dinner and all the sweet desserts of course. 

So next time you’re thinking of a Getaway holiday in Portugal, remember all year round Portugal has much to offer. 

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