Private: Portuguese Holiday Traditions

Experiencing the Magic of Portuguese Holiday Traditions: An Expat's Insight

Portugal, with its rich history and vibrant culture, is a country that knows how to celebrate the holidays in style. From ancient traditions to modern festivities, Portuguese holiday traditions are a true reflection of the country's unique heritage. As an expat living in Portugal, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in these cultural events and create lasting memories. In this article, we will explore some of the most cherished Portuguese holiday traditions and provide insights on how expats can participate and appreciate these magical celebrations.

Christmas in Portugal: A Time for Family and Tradition

Christmas is a special time in Portugal, where family and tradition take center stage. The holiday season officially kicks off on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas decorations and festivities throughout the country.

One of the most beloved Portuguese Christmas traditions is the creation of the nativity scene, known as "Presépio." These intricate displays depict the birth of Jesus and are often set up in homes, churches, and public spaces. Many towns and cities also organize competitions to showcase the most elaborate and creative nativity scenes.

Another cherished tradition is the "Consoada," the Christmas Eve feast. Families gather around the table to enjoy a meal that typically includes codfish, a staple in Portuguese cuisine, along with other traditional dishes. After dinner, it is common to attend the "Missa do Galo," the midnight Mass, where the birth of Jesus is celebrated.

As an expat, you can fully embrace these traditions by attending local Christmas markets, where you can find unique handmade crafts, traditional sweets, and other festive treats. You can also join in the joyous atmosphere by participating in community events and volunteering your time to help those in need during the holiday season.

New Year's Eve: Welcoming the New Year with Joy and Tradition

New Year's Eve, or "Reveillon," is a time of celebration and reflection in Portugal. It is a night filled with joy, fireworks, and traditional customs aimed at bringing good luck for the upcoming year.

One of the most iconic Portuguese New Year's traditions is the eating of twelve raisins at the stroke of midnight. Each grape represents a month of the year, and by eating them, it is believed that you will have good luck and prosperity in the corresponding months. This tradition is often accompanied by the sound of church bells ringing and the popping of champagne corks.

Another popular custom is to wear a specific color of underwear on New Year's Eve. Red is believed to bring love and passion, while yellow symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Many Portuguese also make a wish for the new year and jump off a chair with their right foot, hoping to start the year on the right foot.

As an expat, you can fully immerse yourself in the New Year's Eve celebrations by joining the locals in the main squares of cities like Lisbon and Porto, where spectacular firework displays light up the sky. You can also participate in traditional music and dance events, such as the "Fado" or "Ranchos Folclóricos," which showcase the country's rich musical heritage.

Carnival: A Colorful Celebration of Joy and Tradition

Carnival, or "Carnaval," is a festive season that takes place in the weeks leading up to Lent. It is a time of vibrant parades, elaborate costumes, and lively street parties. While Carnival is celebrated throughout Portugal, some regions are particularly known for their unique traditions.

In the city of Torres Vedras, located just north of Lisbon, Carnival is a major event that attracts thousands of visitors each year. The celebrations here are known for their satirical and humorous themes, with locals dressing up in creative and often politically inspired costumes. The highlight of the Torres Vedras Carnival is the "Corso," a parade filled with colorful floats, music, and dancing.

In the northern city of Ovar, Carnival is celebrated with the "Carnaval de Ovar," one of the oldest and most traditional Carnival events in Portugal. The festivities here include parades, masked balls, and the election of the "Carnival King and Queen." The city comes alive with music, laughter, and a contagious spirit of joy.

As an expat, you can fully embrace the Carnival spirit by joining in the festivities and dressing up in a costume. You can also participate in local workshops where you can learn to create traditional masks and costumes. Carnival is a time to let loose, have fun, and experience the vibrant energy of Portuguese culture.

Easter: A Time of Reflection and Religious Traditions

Easter, or "Páscoa," is a significant religious holiday in Portugal, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time of reflection, religious processions, and traditional customs that vary from region to region.

In the town of Braga, located in the north of Portugal, Easter is celebrated with great fervor. The "Semana Santa," or Holy Week, is filled with religious processions and reenactments of the Passion of Christ. The streets are adorned with flower carpets, and the atmosphere is one of solemnity and devotion.

In the village of Óbidos, located in central Portugal, Easter is celebrated with the "Festa da Páscoa," a unique tradition where locals reenact scenes from the Bible. The village transforms into a living biblical village, with actors portraying biblical characters and scenes.

As an expat, you can participate in these religious processions and attend the traditional church services held during Easter. You can also explore the local markets, where you can find traditional Easter sweets, such as the "Folar," a sweet bread with a hard-boiled egg in the center.


Experiencing Portuguese holiday traditions as an expat is a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich culture and heritage of this beautiful country. Whether it's celebrating Christmas with a traditional "Consoada" feast, welcoming the New Year with twelve grapes at midnight, joining in the vibrant Carnival celebrations, or participating in the religious processions of Easter, Portugal offers a wide range of cultural events that will leave you with unforgettable memories.

By embracing these traditions and actively participating in the local festivities, you will not only gain a deeper understanding of Portuguese culture but also create lasting connections with the local community. So, go ahead, explore, and enjoy the magic of Portuguese holiday traditions!