A Merry Portuguese Christmas

Harry and I have many happy holiday memories from our Portuguese Adventure. For me, though, our second Christmas stands out over all the others. We were members of the Igreja Evangélica de Algés at the time. Although Americans attended there, it was totally Portuguese in tradition and the congregation was amazing. Irmão Fernando Resina was one of the teaching elders. Our second Christmas in Portugal he and his wife invited us to eat supper with their family on Christmas Eve.

The adventure began when I asked Harry what time we would need to be there. He said, “Around 9:30 p.m.” I’ve always been a morning lark, and that made me blink. But, such a delightful invitation, offered in love was irresistible.

Before we left home on Christmas Eve, we had a snack around 6 p.m., and began to get ready to go. We borrowed the ministry van since it would be too late after supper to find public transportation. In addition, my tummy was feeling like I was coming down with the flu.

We arrived around 9:30, right on time, but the party had not begun. (Later I learned that it in Portugal, generally “on time” can be up to 45 minutes after the hour of the invitation. The Resina children had put their boots by the stove for Pai Natal (Father Christmas) to put presents in at midnight. The tree was beautifully decorated.  I learned that evening that, in general, Evangelical Christians had trees and Pai Natal who brought gifts;  Catholic Christians had manger scenes, and the Christ Child brought the gifts.


Bacalhau Cozido

Around 10:30 p.m., our hostess called us to the table. There was the traditional Bacalhau Cozido (boiled codfish).  That included salted cod fish, reconstituted and boiled. There was cabbage, boiled potatoes, and broccoli on the side. It was my first Bacalhau Cozido, and I really enjoyed it. As we finished the bacalhau, family members began clearing the table. I was comfortably full, and it was around 11 p.m.

Galo assado

To my surprise, there was another course; the galo assado, a roasted fowl that had once upon a time crowed at sunrise. Salad, and homemade potato chips accompanied it. I had slowed down on eating, feeling fine and was hoping the flu had given up on me.

Following the fowl, bowls of canja (chicken soup) appeared on the table. It was delicious, but I couldn’t eat much.  I was hoping that no one would be offended by my waning enthusiasm for food.

Bolo Rei

And there was more. We were directed to the dessert table. It was smothered with attractive sweets from rice pudding to Bolo Rei (King Cake). I’d never seen so many kinds of different pastries and puddings in my life. I nibbled a little here and there, and they were amazing. It was truly a feast fit to honor the King of kings. And no unhappy tummy all night.

Around midnight the children got their boots, and opened their presents. Food, fun and fellowship ran riot that night. Soon after midnight, we got into the van and drove back across town to our neighborhood.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all of you. I look forward to sharing more about Portugal and our time there in January. 

14 thoughts on “A Merry Portuguese Christmas

  1. I would say, Kevin, that it is closer to Stollen than Fruitcake. It is a yeast dough, and has nuts and dried fruit in it. It's decorated with crystallized fruit, and a glaze of some kind. Inside of it are a small toy wrapped in paper, and a fava bean. Whoever gets the bean is supposed to buy the Bolo Rei the next year; if they get the toy, it is said to bring good fortune. It's good freshly made, and good toasted when it is slightly stale, if it gets that far.


  2. In Spain they served their dishes the same way and I didn’t see anyone overweight. Probably because they sit and enjoy their meals.


      1. I agree with that and they take time to enjoy their food as well. Unlike Americans who are always in the go.


        1. American’s, unfortunately, want bigger, faster, and more. Many are in a rush to finish whatever and then are galloping off to whatever may be next. I’m married to one of them. He hurries to get places so he can hurry to go back.

          The Portuguese take life in a much more laid back manner.


  3. Again, I felt as though I were there. What a lovely, and meaningful, Christmas! Traditions are very interesting to me, and I was fascinated by the differences you wrote about in this entry. Erm, now I’m hungry. That cake looks delicious! Meryy Christmas to you and yours. I am so gratefui I found your blog through another mutual interest, the PL’s! 🙂 It’s just wonderful here. I enjoy your writing, and your memories!


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