4 Christmas facts about Portuguese

Like many other countries, Christmas is a big affair in Portugal, filled with food, laughter, and more food!

Boas festas! or Feliz Natal! means ‘Merry Christmas!’ in Portuguese. In the weeks leading up to the festive period, you will often see Chistmas lights spelling out this phrase around Portugal.

To kick-start your Portuguese journey this winter, take a look at these five facts about Christmas in Portugal:


If Christmas just isn’t Christmas without snow, then you better travel north in Portugal to the Serra da Estrela mountains – it’s the only place in Portugal that gets a bit of the white stuff. Some of Portugal’s best cheese is also made in this region.

At our school in Lisbon, the sunny weather continues throughout the winter, although it will be a lot colder and often rainier, thanks to the Atlantic coast.

Portuguese festive food

Bacalhau, a salted codfish, is Portugal’s most popular fish. On Christmas eve, which is the main celebration in Portugal, bacalhau is eaten with boiled potatoes, fried onions, eggs and olives. On Christmas day, ‘Peru’ or turkey, as it is known in English, is normally the main dish.

Christmas cake in Portugal comes in the form of ‘Bolo Rei’, or ‘King’s cake’ as it is literally translated. It is a soft brioche-style fruit cake, filled and garnished with nuts, raisins, and dried and candied fruits. If you prefer, you can have Bolo Rainha, which does not have candied fruits on top.

A singe broad bean in baked inside the Bolo Rei. Whoever is given the slice with the broad bean must make the next year’s Bolo Rei.

Pai Natal

Also known as Father Christmas, Pai Natal visits children to drop off his presents on the Christmas eve (24th of December), rather than on Christmas day.  

Pai Natal looks more or less the same in Portugal as everywhere else around the world – red clothes and a big white beard. But cookies and milk are not left out for Pai Natal in this country – Santa will have to do his work on an empty stomach!

Presents are normally opened at midnight on Christmas eve when everyone is together. Some families open the presents in the morning of Christmas day instead.

 Celebration days

In Portugal, Christmas eve (the 24th) is the main day of celebration. The whole family gets together to eat food, drink port wine, and laugh into the early hours of the morning. 

Christmas day (the 25th) is a day of rest, with another big family meal, but this time with meat instead of fish.

By the 26th, it’s back to business-as-usual – Boxing Day, which is celebrated in the UK and other parts of Europe, does not exist in Portugal!

Divirtam-se! Enjoy your Christmas time and we hope to see you next year!

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