Portuguese Christmas Traditions
In this month’s edition of Lisbon’s Agenda Cultural, Tomás Collares Pereira presents some of the Portuguese Christmas Traditions.
In a time when most of us struggle through the shopping list, the “fights” at the shopping mall or the constant advertising bombing all to make sure that Christmas has all it should have, there are still some traditions that survived the standardization that is taking place in our society.
In the list below you will find traditions that no longer take place and other that are more recent, enjoy:
The Christmas Turkey
Brought to Europe by the Spanish and the English it was introduced to the Portuguese in the early 20th century and it was only available to the richest due to the rationing caused by the war.
Always associated with this festivity the electric lighting allowed a more elaborate decoration of the city, which is by itself a reason for a visit to the city center, as it happened in 2004 when, in association with a local bank, the Comércio Square assembled a Christmas tree that was, informally, considered the highest in Europe.
Christmas is not Christmas without a visit to the Circus and this tradition started early. During the second half of the 19th century, the Theatro-Circo located in Lisbon offered various circus spectacles, but the true circus house in Lisbon is Coliseu dos Recreios, which opened in 1889 and hosts Circus spectacles almost every Christmas.
One must think that Christmas traffic is an event of the modern times but you couldn’t be more wrong. In the old days, the Downtown area was the center of Lisbon shopping and it was always very busy at this time of the year.
Here’s a tradition lost in time. With the arrival of the automobile and in consequence its complicated relation with pedestrians, it was necessary to find someone to control traffic. The Traffic Policeman, wearing white gloves and hat/helmet so they can be easily seen, was not well accepted by the drivers in those days. Pedestrians felt safer and for that, and also due to the low incomes, on Christmas they offered gifts to the Traffic Policeman.
Santa Claus had its origin on St. Nicolau, a bishop that besides his miracles anonymously offered presents to the needed. Although it is common to associate Santa Claus with the Coca-Cola commercials, he has been presented with red clothing in the 19th century. In Portugal, for instance, the tradition of Baby Jesus and a little shoe to receive gifts, prevailed over Santa Claus.