So you’ve actually spent at least one Christmas in Portugal already and you think you’ve seen it all! But have you really? What do you do with day old “bolo rei”? What if you hear Portuguese kids singing “jingóbel”? Are they mispronouncing or just poking fun at you?
Rest assured, today we’ll be going over the kind of detail that can make you, dear reader, feel truly at ease among the Portuguese (ta-dah!):
1 – “Feliz Natal e bom ano novo” is the simplest way of saying “Merry Christmas and a happy new year”. But there are variants: “bom natal e feliz ano novo”, “bom/feliz natal e um ano novo em cheio/em grande” or, if you want to sum it up and please everyone just say “boas festas” (Happy hollidays)!
2 – you got yourself a nice “bolo rei” or “bolo rainha”, sweet and fluffy… and the next day when you take a bite it’s not so fluffy anymore. Pro tip: slice it, toast it and spread something yummy on top (butter is a must if you enjoy the sweet/savoury contrast). Some people also use it to make a kind of “sopas de pão” (“bread soup”): break up a slice or two onto a bowl and cover with warm milk (whatever kind of milk you happen to like).
3 – in 90% of the cases all the fried dough kind of sweets we eat traditionally for Christmas, like sonhos, fatias paridas and filhoses, are best eaten still warm. So if you’re lucky enough to have been invited to a Portuguese house for dinner on the 24th here’s another pro tip: make sure to lurk around the kitchen while they’re being made. If the person making them is like my granny she’ll tell you off if you touch the food before it gets to the table. In this case, I suggest you use the approach I learned from spending way too much time in the kitchen with my mom: act interested! Granny or mom will surely be delighted to let you eat a couple of still warm “filhoses” (you’re such a nice person and so interested in our traditional food, you deserve it!).
4 – who brings the presents on Christmas eve? Santa Claus / Father Christmas / Pai Natal, of course! But you’ll probably hear someone’s grandmother say that it used to be baby Jesus. In fact, still today, in a super super traditional family it’s baby Jesus who’s supposed to bring gifts for everyone!
5 – last but surely not least I’m sharing a song – but not a boring Christmas carol. Well, in a way, it is a Christmas carol but far from boring. I’ll show you the song every Portuguese kid knows and, in some cases, I’d venture saying it’s the first Christmas carol they learn. Actually, I made sure my 2 year old learned it in time for Christmas. Meet “Jingóbel”, a kind of mispronounciation from “Jingle bells”:
Jingle bells, / Jingóbel,
Jingle bells, / Jingóbel,
Jingle all the way, / Já não há papel, (there’s no more [toilet] paper)
Oh what fun / Não faz mal, (that’s OK)
It is to ride / Não faz mal, (that’s OK)
On a one horse open sleigh! / Limpa-se ao jornal! (you can wipe it [your butt] with newspaper!)
Hope you found this tutorial useful! Feliz Natal e bom ano novo!
Cátia is a Portuguese who has traveled all over the country since she was a child. Her love for Portugal is her inspiration for the blog where she shares personal views, experiences and shows that Portugal is more than Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve. You can read her on Beyond Lisbon
A version of this post was first published on Beyond Lisbon