1. Spend a lot of time creating an intricate nativity set.
Go out into the wild and bring home moss, pinecones, and little stones to make not just a house, but an entire village with a bridge, a cave, some shepherds, a cow, a donkey, a star and Reis Magos riding camels. Be bold, be creative, and cover your palm trees with snow! Dare your family to attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, beating out the 2013 record of 7,500 pieces. And when they decide you’ve gone nuts, just blame São Francisco de Assis. It was his idea.
2. Buy a Bolo Rei.
And place a broad bean inside it. We know it’s against the 21st-century health and safety regulations, but how are we supposed to let our guests know it’s their turn to buy the next cake?
3. Say goodbye to decorative pine tree balls and hello to chocolate figures.
In the shape of Santa Claus, pinecones and bells, tied up to the tree with a string. And to make it all more traditional, get them from Avienense just like your great-grandmother did.
4. Don’t go Christmas shopping until the very last minute.
5. Convince your mother to spend hours in the kitchen making fritos.
Or all those recipes your grandmother didn’t tell the baker about: migas doces, filhós of jerimú and abóbora-menina, rabanadas with sugar syrup, aletria, bolinhos de bolina, mexidos de leite ou vinho, sonhos, filhós do joelho, bolo torto, broas de batata doce, coscorões, carolo, empanadilhas, broas de milho, and — my favourite — potato azevias with erva doce.
6. If you’re a man, know your responsibilities.
And help your girlfriend, mother, grandmother, etc. A man should amassar a massa, punch it a little and take full responsibility for choosing drinks and liquers.
7. Allow two hours to send your holiday texts.
Until the network cannot handle the text sending traffic and breaks down.
8. Place a sapatinho by the chimney.
Not a sock. One shoe per child. If the child behaves, one or several presents might appear around midnight. Honestly, do you think your grandmother would have ever placed a sock by the fireplace?
9. Start celebrating Christmas on the 24th of December.
And make it the longest night of the year. Call it consoada, bring on the cod, cabbages, and eggs, boil it all and serve it with plenty of olive oil — Gallo, Oliveira da Serra or from the neighbours olive trees. Place your favourite Portuguese green and red wine on the table and surprise your family.
10. Remember what the doctor says…
“Cuidado com as gorduras, corte no sal, reduza o acuçar e corte nas calorias,” and then make sure you have a table that screams the opposite.
11. Always build a fire.
Get the biggest cepo you can and watch it burn slowly while it warms the house and saves you from a cold, long December night.
12. Allow your children to play with that fire.
And join them in roasting pinecones.
13. Never tell your children to go to bed.
Allow them to open one — or several — presents at midnight and play until they drop.
14. Ask your children if they want to know what Menino Jesus brought them.
And if they ask what happened to Santa Claus, tell them it was made up by Coca-Cola.
15. Decorate the table with plenty of nuts.
Because hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts and any other sort of nut will help decrease your hangover on Christmas day.
16. Make sure you’ve invited your storyteller.
You know that annoying uncle that always tells the greatest jokes, knows the most interesting historical anecdotes and all the family gossip that no one else knows? This is the perfect time of year to let him shine.
17. Serve your cakes with Port wine.
And if your uncle’s jokes are really bad, just serve everyone another round.
18. Make roupa-velha (old clothes) for lunch on Christmas day.
19. Avoid turkey, kill a chicken.
To make your delicious chicken soup, of course.
20. But if you insist on having a turkey, do it Portuguese-style.
Stuff him with chestnut puree.
21. Repeat the Portuguese Christmas mantra often.
“Bom apetite e bom Natal!”
22. Go to the Missa do Galo.
And spend the entire hour blaming the Roman Catholic Church for making up this tradition 1,600 years ago.
23. Celebrate Christmas until Dia de Reis.
Because Christmas only finishes when the Reis Magos give baby Jesus his presents and we eat that Bolo Rei that was bought by the person the broad bean doomed.
24. Play Portuguese carols.
Leave the Silent Night CD inside the cupboard and turn the TV on for the Coro de Santo Amaro de Oeiras sing along. “A todos um bom Natal, a todos um bom Natal, Que seja um bom Natal para todos nós…”
25. Remember that Christmas is about sharing moments.
Not presents. Give simple things, like cheap useful things that you’ve made. For centuries, Christmas was about undertaking long voyages to be reunited with the small community our ancestors had grown up calling family.