Christmas in Portugal: trees, lights, and hanging Santas

Our first holiday abroad was a big one — Christmas! We really had no idea what to expect from Christmas in Portugal, but from research we’d thought fireworks and holiday markets and probably more church-going than we generally see in the States, as Portugal is a very Catholic country. Oddly enough — as I am not at all religious — the church-going was the aspect I was most interested in experiencing. The churches we visited in Portugal are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and I was looking forward to the full cultural immersion of Christmas mass in an historic church during a high holiday. In the end, though, we stayed in our flat (cooking up a feast, drinking wine, and singing Christmas carols off the balcony!) during Christmas services; when it came down to it I didn’t feel comfortable being an intrusive looky-loo on such a revered holiday.

Otherwise, we soaked in as much Portuguese Christmas culture as we could get! The fireworks were cancelled (because of COVID), and everything was closed on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day as well as New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day (combo of COVID and normal holiday closures), but holiday lights were out in full force and outdoor holiday markets were full of revelers eating roasted chestnuts and drinking hot wine. Santas were climbing up the balconies (they have to get in somehow, right? There are no chimneys in the city!) and natal flags were flying. Here are some of our favorite photos/experiences during the Christmas holiday in Portugal:

A real tree (!) in Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira
Reading a Christmas story in Óbidos
Nativity scenes can be created out of anything! We found this one in a doorway near the University of Coimbra

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