Holiday season

9 things we love about our first holiday in Portugal

We moved to Portugal in the spring of 2021 and have enjoyed the special pleasures each season has brought so far. We learn the language, the customs and the culture. And now that the end of the year is approaching, there are many things we love about our first holiday season in Portugal. We’ll only share a few of our favorites with you.

Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

1. Festive lights and displays

Christmas is very important in Portugal. We first noticed a festive mood building when our local grocery store started playing familiar Christmas songs and carols with a new area showcasing chocolates, nuts, dried fruit and other seasonal treats. .

But the biggest displays are taking shape in the streets – the light displays. The magic of the end of the year celebrations began with an illumination ceremony in Cascais. Huge arches, a giant Christmas gift and tree, and a Hanukkah menorah now light up downtown. An illuminated Ferris wheel turns slowly in front of the Estoril Casino. And the streets of Lisbon display sparkling gifts, bows, candy canes and even jellyfish above their heads. A huge Christmas tree, the largest in Europe, lights up Place Commercio. This year’s dazzling blizzard of white lights is impressive.

Bolo rei King's Cake in Lisbon
Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

2. Delicious sweet treats

We enjoyed the wide range of everyday Portuguese sweets. But Portugal pulls out all the stops for the festive period. One of the most popular treats is Bolo Rei, or King’s Cake. Portugal’s sweet masterpiece features sweet bread topped with nuts and candied fruit. The bakers use their own picks and there are even mini versions that you can enjoy on your own if you don’t want to share. A variation is Bolo Rainha or Queen’s Cake, which skips candied fruit and focuses on nuts and dried fruit. The Confeiteria Nacional and other bakeries present the best of their parties to grateful customers.

There are many other sweet treats that appear during the holiday season. Some of the most popular include different approaches to sweet fried dough, including the sonhos (fried choux pastry), filhos (fried yeast dough), and malasadas (fried donuts without holes). Often covered in sugar and spices, these treats are one of the things we love about our first Portuguese vacation.

Vendor's stand at a Christmas market in Lisbon
Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

3. Christmas markets

We do not hide our love for Christmas markets. And Portugal is starting to add more of these festive spots to its own holiday traditions. Lisbon has several to soak up the Christmas cheer. Larger Christmas markets include Wonderland Lisboa, Campo Pequeno, Natalis and the bustling Rossio Christmas Market. We explored the many fun stalls with handmade gifts and crafts, handcrafted accessories and, of course, plenty of delicious treats.

For something really different, we ventured about an hour from Lisbon to the ancient walled city of Óbidos. The whole city, quite magical at first, turns into Vila Natal (Christmas Village). Theater performances, puppet shows, Christmas concerts, and magic join an ice rink, Ferris wheel, Christmas train, and more. We could not leave this holiday paradise without tasting one last time the famous cherry liqueur which is a specialty, the Ginjinha d’Óbidos, which warmed us to the toes.

Roast turkey, a traditional Christmas dish
Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

4. Traditional Christmas foods

When the festive season arrives, the Portuguese add to their already spectacular culinary tradition. Christmas is really a 2 day holiday. On Christmas Eve, families all over Portugal most often enjoy a meal called Bacalhau com Todos (cod with everything) salt cod soaked and simmered with a combination of sides such as carrots, cabbage, boiled egg, potatoes and chickpeas drizzled with olive oil, vinegar and garlic. This traditional meal is known as consoadafrom Latin meaning to comfort or console because it comforted family members who made a long, cold journey to be together during the holidays.

Christmas Day brings another festive meal, this time with meat. While lamb and goat are appearing in many homes, turkey has become increasingly popular. It’s a time when finding a whole turkey isn’t a challenge (unlike a traditional Thanksgiving meal in the US in November). Another popular way to serve turkey at Christmas is called Peru Recheado, which is a rolled turkey breast filled with a variety of stuffing choices.

Monte Estoril beach, Portugal
Monte Estoril beach, Portugal (Photo credit: Sue Reddel & Diana Laskaris)

5. Weather

While we’ve certainly grown to love our white Christmas vacations living in the Midwest, there’s a lot to be said for a milder climate. We can walk to the beach and stroll along the Paredao, a coastal promenade that runs from Lisbon to Cascais. The weather is cooler for sure, which adds to the feeling that the seasons here are with us.

We were treated to early morning rainbows and windy nights. Bringing in some of our holiday traditions, like decorating a Christmas tree, putting lights outside for our neighbors to enjoy, and lining up the nutcrackers, seems perfectly natural. And, because Portugal is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world, we can drive a few hours to Serra da Estrela, a mountainous four-season region where there is snowfall and even a ski resort. . We will pay a visit there one day, but at the moment we are enjoying our holiday walks along the beach.

Wine Advent Calendar
Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

6. The Best Advent Calendar Ever

Opening advent calendars has become something of a tradition for us over the years. There were chocolate advent calendars, peanut advent calendars, travel advent calendars and of course cat advent calendars. We had a lot of fun counting the days during the holiday season.

But nothing in the past can compare to the advent calendar we discovered in a local delicatessen. It was hidden behind a sign and other boxes in the adult drink section. We brought home the Port Wine Advent Calendar and enjoy it with pleasure every day. Each issue contains a small bottle of delicious port, ranging from vintage to decades-old tawny, ruby ​​and even a white port or two. And these aren’t cheap, stinky ports. Each is better than the next. We can’t wait to see what happens on Christmas Eve! Suffice it to say, Portugal provided us with our favorite advent calendar.

Choir performing in Cascais, Portugal
Choir in Cascais, Portugal (Photo credit: Sue Reddel & Diana Laskaris)

7. Christmas music

We mentioned the holiday music that plays in grocery stores. They also do it in stores and malls. But what we love is the music surrounding all the holiday festivities that we can hear and see everywhere we go. Christmas markets play music and offer live entertainment. There are concerts of symphony orchestras and choirs. Churches and parks are filled with the sounds of music.

Each city has its own way of celebrating. Cascais presented live traditional songs sung by a full choir. As if that wasn’t enough to get us in the mood, a New Orleans-style jazz band followed, leading the way for giant toy soldiers, a snowman and a gingerbread cookie to dance around in. in the crowded streets to start a parade that circulated through the main streets of the city. Parades are common in cities and towns across Portugal, and music brings the holiday spirit to life.

8. Focus on family and friends

One of the things we like the most in Portugal is the friendliness of the people with us. They are really interested in learning about our experiences and sharing their culture and traditions. While the Portuguese love to celebrate the holiday season, clearly the most important aspect of this time is spending it with family and friends. The stories we hear are all about meals and family gatherings. And when we are in the shops, in the markets and walking the streets, we often see families together enjoying the view.

While there are certainly ways to spend money on gifts in Portugal, we love to see the abundance of ways to celebrate that are designed to be shared with family and friends. There may be a stack of toys or a stack of books. But there are rows and rows of dried fruits and nuts, cakes and cookies, specialty meats and holiday wines. Everywhere we get the clear message that the most important thing about the Portuguese holiday season is that people take time to be together and enjoy the gift of being together.

Sonhos on a veranda in Monte Estoril, Portugal (Photo credit: Sue Reddel & Diana Laskaris)

9. A stress-free vacation

After many years of running from event to event, buying gifts big and small, and trying to bring holiday cheer, no matter what, it’s refreshing to have a holiday without stress here in Portugal. The friends we have met are happy to spend time with us. Sharing wine or a meal and a few stories is the only gift they would like to receive. No one is looking for that “perfect gift” in a box or bag. And neither do we.

For the first time in quite a while, we both feel, dare we say it, relaxed about the holiday season. We enjoy the lights and the celebrations. Learning about the traditions of our new country and the customs that the holidays bring is fun and educational. We feel blessed to enjoy a sense of calm and peace during a time that has often been filled with stress. We spend our time enjoying those around us, the beauty of our surroundings, and what the holidays mean to us.

Moving to Portugal brought us many lessons and new experiences. But along with everything new, there is also a lot of familiarity. And that’s another of the things we love about our first holiday season in Portugal.

Portugal is considered a retirement option for many reasons. Consider:

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