By Bill Egan, Christmas Historian & Christmas.com Staff Writer
In older times, children in Portugal would place their shoes near the fireplace so that "O Pai Natal" (Father Christmas) would leave them presents. The next morning, they would find little toys and sweets in their shoes.
Sofia, from Lisbon, tells Christmas.com, "In Portugal, on Christmas Eve, the family gathers around the pine tree. We wait for midnight, to attend a special Mass, called "Missa do Galo" (Rooster's Mass), and when we come back home we sit at the table and eat boiled dry codfish with potatoes and Portuguese sprouts (in pure olive oil) and drink red wine."
Sofia says that the children see their presents in the early morning. "Some believe Santa Claus did it, others believe Jesus did it."
On Christmas Day roast chicken is served in many households, according to Maria Esteves. She tells Christmas.com that lamb or turkey is served in the more affluent homes.
"Portuguese enjoy their sweets and make the "filhozes estendidas" (similar to Canadian Beaver Tails only with moonshine incorporated in the dough) and "filhozes de abobora" (pumpkin fritters) as traditional deserts."
She tells us that another very traditional desert is the "Bolo Rei" (King's cake) "which is a wreath-like very rich fruit cake laced with crystallized fruits and pine nuts."
The "broas de milho" (oblong, almost triangular shaped corn flour pastries) or the "broas de mel" (made with honey) are also very traditional Christmas deserts throughout Portugal.
The Nativity Scene is really the focus of attention and the main Christmas decoration in most Portuguese homes instead of the Christmas tree. The figure of the Christ Child is added to the scene after the family attends Midnight Mass
Portuguese usually don't decorate inside their homes with Christmas lights and outdoor decorations are rarely seen on a private residence.
The main streets of Lisbon are decorated in the vicinity of the larger stores and boutiques but Christmas in the countryside is more of a religious event. Families gather the best of their harvest and share it with others at the Parish Church