Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in Portugal and it has a huge religious and cultural significance in the country.  The country is known for its catholic and Christian traditions, therefore, the Christmas traditions in the country are often influenced by the largest religion. 

The Christmas traditions have been in place for hundreds of years now and they continue to be passed from one generation to another. During the Christmas period in Portugal, the traditions, decorations as well as Christmas spirit are in full gear.

Christmas in Portugal is celebrated on December 24th and 25th. Christmas Eve is one of the most commonly celebrated festivities and you will find that people put a lot of energy into the preparation of food, drinks as well as decorations for the Christmas period.

Christmas is a magical time of the year and Portugal is not left behind either. Portugal has all kinds of traditions, which people enjoy during the Christmas period, and these include Christmas trees, big bonfires, chestnuts, masks, and even bananas. When you visit the country, you are going to see some of the most exceptional traditions.

Christmas customs and traditions in Portugal

Christmas is called natal in Portugal. The most common phrase for Merry Christmas in Portugal is feliz natal and in some regions, people say boa’s fiestas, which means happy holidays.  Here are the most common customs and traditions in Portugal during Christmas.

Bananeiro de Braga

This is a common tradition in the country and it is a more modern tradition, as it started about forty years ago. According to this tradition, people gather around and wish everyone a Merry Christmas while holding a banana and a glass of Muscatel de Setubal. 

The tavern has a fruit that was common in the region and ever since, people in the country have embraced the tradition in the region. On Christmas Eve, people will hold a glass of their favorite drink and a banana before wishing each other a Merry Christmas. 

People will often gather in large numbers for this event and during your trip to the region, you are going to find that they are having a good time in the area before they can go for dinner.

Christmas Bonfires in Portugal

There is a common tradition in Portugal practiced during the Christmas period and that is – large bonfires. Fogueiros do galo, Madeiros de natal, and the Madeiros are some of the large fires that are lit during this period.

The lighting of the fires is usually done before people can go for the midnight mass or what is commonly called missa do galo. It is expected that the bonfires will light throughout the night. 

People from different parts of Portugal enjoy this tradition. The states in Portugal have different ways of celebrating.  The tradition dates back hundreds of years, and it is similar to the ancient pagan tradition of celebrating winter solstice.

Further reading: Christmas in Andorra

Caretos de Varge

This is part of a very ancient tradition practiced in Portugal for many years now. It is more prevalent in the town of Varge during the winter solstice. The tradition involves village boys gathering on Christmas Eve and preparing everything that will be consumed on Christmas day. 

On Christmas day, they will run around the town dressed in caretos, which are ancient pagan masks, and they will scream and jump as they try to simulate chaos. The essence of this celebration is to enjoy the end of the cold period and people can have fun. 

These boys will move from house to house as they sing different songs and they are usually given all kinds of presents including food. They will consume the food and move as they sing. Once the day ends, they will participate in a race which will end in a dinner and dance with girls and other people in the area.

This is an important tradition as it symbolizes the reunion of the boys and girls during this time and they can enjoy the food and drinks together.

Christmas tree from Guimaraes

During the celebrations of St. Nicholas, the people will gather around 29th November and there is a special ritual that takes place during this time. Thousands of people from Minho and Guimaraes region will gather around a bull cart that usually transports a huge Christmas tree, and it is a perfect time for you to interact with the local people.

They will then put up the tree at night, and this marks the beginning of Christmas celebrations in the region. St Nicholas is the inspiration behind this huge structure and Santa as well and this tradition has been around for hundreds of years in the region.

This tree is usually cut down before it is transported through the villages in the region. Before it is mounted, it is usually decorated and people will join in all kinds of dances and music.

Further reading: Dangerous animals in Portugal

Magusto da Velha 

This is a unique tradition that is common only in Portugal. People usually celebrate this holiday on 26th December. It is a celebration that is done in memory of Velha, a wealthy woman whose name is not known. During the Christmas period, she decided to distribute chestnuts to the people of the town. In exchange, she wanted people to pray in her name during the festive season. 

Even modern people still pray in her name and during these celebrations. Currently, during every Christmas season, the people of Aldeia Vicosa usually go up the church tower and they will throw chestnuts into the remaining bonfire that was lit at the square.

It is an exceptional tradition that you should participate in during your visit to the region. The town hall in the region usually hands out chestnuts and wine to the people who spend their time in the chapel around the region.

Decoration of the Christmas tree in Portugal

One of the most common traditions that you are going to find in Portugal is that groups of young men will climb the tallest tree in the town of Viana do Castelo which prides itself on having the tallest Christmas tree in Europe.

Once they have climbed the tree, they will then decorate it and it is a very dangerous endeavor because this is a very tall tree and climbing it can be challenging. Each year, the tree attracts thousands of people who come to see the kinds of decorations that have been put in place and it is an exceptional location where you can see people interacting with nature firsthand.

Christmas Eve

While in many countries across the globe, Christmas is the most important day, however in Portugal Christmas Eve is one of the most essential days during the festive season.

During this day, the family members will come together for the amazing celebrations and here you will find families enjoying dinner together until late. The family gatherings usually begin from 6 pm and the people will drink wine, dine and enjoy themselves with some starters until late at night.

The most common dish people eat during this period is salted cod or bacalhau and in some parts of the country, you will find that people enjoy oven-baked potatoes and salted cod, cabbage, and boiled eggs.  It is often served with starters such as cod fritters, and pasties de bacalhau among others.

There are hundreds of ways of cooking the cod. Since cod is often served during the Christmas period, it is critical that you look for it early enough because the prices tend to skyrocket as you get closer to Christmas day. There are other common meals such as boiled eggs, Portuguese cabbages, and a mix of cod, among other delicacies.

There are various desserts that you can enjoy in Portugal and this will include a traditional cake that is filled with nuts and fruits. Others include sonhos, and pao de lo among others. Different regions around the country usually serve different drinks, such as port wine, coffee, gin, and vodka. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is a time for socializing, interacting with friends and family. 

Further reading: Cannabis in Portugal

Christmas Gifts in Portugal

In Portugal, it is a common tradition to open gifts at night or at midnight. You will find that the children will stay awake until they can open their presents. The presents are put under the Christmas tree. People will often go to the midnight mass before they can begin to open their presents.

The families will spend more time together as they open their presents and it is common that you will find that the Christmas parties in Portugal usually end very late.

Christmas Day in Portugal

December 25th in Portugal is a day of relaxing and having a good time with friends and family members. There are usually friends and family members from far away who are not always present, and this is a good time to catch up with them.

The Christmas dishes are often meat-centered and you will find people enjoying oven-roasted lamb, roast potatoes, and stuffed turkeys among other dishes. For starters, they might serve the mix of cod and potatoes from the previous night.

During the festive season, the weather is usually mild, and the temperatures average 10 degrees Celsius which is a perfect time to spend with family.

Traditional Christmas dishes in Portugal

The Portuguese have a very diverse cuisine and during the Christmas period, you are going to see people from different parts of the country come together to celebrate Christmas.

Some of the dishes that you will find people consuming in this is unique based on the area that you will visit. In some cases, each family has their traditional dishes. However, some of the most common dishes that you will find during the Christmas period are goatling, roasted lamb, turkey, and geese.

The main dish of cod or bacalhau, which is a common delicacy, will never miss from any table in the region. All these amazing dishes are often topped up with desserts and sweet treats that not only guarantee you the best festive season, but it will also leave you full.

Dia dos Reis

This is a unique day that you should consider during your visit to the region. In Portugal, Christmas usually ends on January 6 and this is a time that you can explore some of the unique features of the country as you interact with the people. On this day, they pack up all the Christmas decorations, and people are ready to go back to work.


Aurimas Bio

Hi there! I’m Aurimas, a man behind Go Look Explore. I’m passionate about hiking, exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations, and everything outdoors related. Let’s connect.