The beautiful Chaos that is Christmas in a Portuguese household

The beautiful Chaos that is Christmas in a Portuguese household

The countdown has begun…


Tis the season to be jolly tralala lala la… its ok you can go ahead and hum that carol along with me, with only 6 days left until Christmas.  The stores are all decked out with Christmas décor – it is official!

Like with any major festive event you have those individuals who get super excited to celebrate the season and have already done or prepped for their Christmas Shopping, have their Christmas décor out and are ready to immaculately decorate their home, they have carols playing in their cars and home and are utterly joyful leading up to the festive season.  Then you get those individuals that are less phased by the twinkling lights and festivities and end up quickly putting up a small Christmas tree a couple of days before Christmas as a result of some peer pressure. Irrespective of which side of the spectrum you’re on, one can’t help but admit that Christmas is a special time.  Christmas for me and my family has always been special not so much because of the ideas of getting gifts and going on holiday but because of the traditions that have been passed down, from a cultural and family perspective.

Going back to my Childhood

For many Portuguese families, Christmas eve is the Highlight of Christmas. Many of us being Catholic going to church for Midnight mass is almost an unspoken rule. I personally have had bittersweet feelings about this tradition. I have had moments where I highly disliked this tradition especially in the moments when I was struggling to stay awake during the long Portuguese celebrated masses that just went onnnnn and onnnn in my young adult life. But this tradition has also been the cornerstone of some of my fondest childhood memories.

Because my parents both work such long hours in the shop, early Christmas eve would be when our Christmas tree would come out, my mom would get home and start making a hearty chicken soup for us to eat before we left for church while my dad and older brother would sit with me and help decorate the Christmas tree, then we would bath and put our Sunday’s finest on, have supper as a family which was often not possible and rush off to church because in-between that someone had fallen asleep and we ended up running late. The Church would have this beautiful nativity made up that would have a baby Jesus displayed only from the start of mass that always fascinated me – an external representation of the true spiritual meaning of Christmas. After mass family friends would gather and exchange greetings and we would end up going to someone’s house to have us kids open our presents and play until early hours of the morning.

A few hours later we would gather at someone’s house for a chaotic lunch and the moms would be cooking up a storm of a meal they have been prepping for weeks and exchanging stories, the dads would be playing cards, getting into heated debates about who actually won and telling their jokes and stories from Madeira while munching on Portuguese delicacies they had driven to Rio Douro (which is a madhouse over Christmas) to go buy  and us kids would be playing and being carefree, enjoying the sweet smell of the cakes mom had made that morning lingering in the air – just joy all round, set in motion by Christmas Midnight Mass.

Christmas 2019

Over the years it’s been hard to keep some of these traditions, life changes, people through different life phases, families can’t always be together due to distance or obligations with new family members, etc. This year, I felt a strong need to bring back some of those traditions since it will be my first Christmas as a mom. I want my son to start experiencing the special, beautiful chaos that is a Portuguese Christmas, so I have said to our family members the gift we want this year is the gift of their time – the greatest gift you can really give and so Christmas Lunch will be at our house this year.

I am so excited to go to Midnight Mass and start the Christmas celebrations with a age old religious tradition that means so much me, to cook up a storm for my family, although I have handed over the baking duties to the talented ladies around me (I would not want to punish anyone with my baking – that would defeat the purpose.)  to having mom and mom in law spoil my son with attention and have my sister in law help in the Kitchen, to have hubby run around pouring drinks for everyone and asking me for stuff while my mom loudly tells my dad to go help him and to have my little niece want to play with Coco (our dog) causing her to run all over the house in loud excitement,while my brother tries to catch her, to sending my brother in law to the shops to get something I forgot for a dish, in a mix of Portuguese and English all while wondering aloud where is Jose – he is late!  And finally, to have everyone come together over a meal and share memories, stories and laughter. Sjoe that was a mouthful, but that is the beautiful chaos of Christmas in our Portuguese Household.