Our first holiday season in Portugal
“Boas Festas!” literally means “good party” but is typically translated to “Happy Holidays”. While raised in the Christian traditions, I typically said this rather than “Merry Christmas” (Feliz Natal) … I guess I was born a progressive. But that is not the point. The point is Portugal certainly knows how to celebrate the holiday season.
We had never spent the holiday season in any European country. So we had much to learn. The first was related to Christmas Markets. Dating back to the 15th Century in certain German territories, such markets are relatively new to Portugal. However, as small lighted huts popped up along the streets of Cascais this December I needed to learn more. Permit me to summarize an interesting article on Christmas Markets I found:
The earliest Christmas Markets included local artisans selling pottery, meat, baked goods, and sweets;
The Industrial Revolution and the rising middle-class fueled the growth of markets, the number of stalls in Berlin doubled to 600 by 1840;
Capitalism pushed such markets to the outskirts of town so they would not compete with Mainstreet by the end of the 19th century;
Adolf Hitler attempted to transform Christmas from a religious holiday to a nationalist one that extolled German heritage. Nazi imagery was inserted into Nativity scenes, filled Advent calendars, and the markets were returned to the center of town complete with nationalist speeches.
The Post-War consumer boom fueled the growth of Christmas Markets and by the 1980s other countries started to emulate the practice.
The Christmas Markets we have visited in Portugal this year reminds us of a bygone time. Many vendors are selling handcrafted items, small (inexpensive toys), or candy. There are picnic tables covered with red vinyl table cloths and people partaking in holiday treats and street food. We often let our noses guide us to the roasted chestnut carts and purchase a dozen piping hot chestnuts for €3.
Perhaps the markets seem especially festive as most were canceled last year due to the pandemic. And as Portugal looks toward a 10-day lockdown after the holiday season (in hopes of containing the spread) people seem particularly happy to participate.
What makes [the markets] so important isn’t just buying an ornament. It’s this whole experience of sound, smell, visuals, but also the physicality of people around you.” — Dirk Spennemann
We agree with Mr. Spennemann. While we have been cautious over this holiday season we have ventured out into the crowds at times. This included a trip back to Óbidos, where a €6,50 ticket, a mask, and an EU Covid Vaccine Certificate got us into the Christmas Village. We were not sure what to expect…though we were both excited to see they had an ice slide. But looking back on our evening, I must admit it delivered exactly what the website promised:
In an increasingly fast-paced world, Óbidos Christmas Village has one purpose: to stop time and unite families in fun, fantasy and special moments with theirs.
Óbidos Christmas Village is an experience that brings us back to the essentials: remembering other times and other realities, living the present with joy and making new memories for the future, in the company of those who are most dear to us. An event of happy moments with happy people. — Óbidos
While there was a skating rink, a train to ride, an opportunity to chat with Santa, to be hugged by a snowman, and the best puppet show I have ever seen … it was more than a holiday-themed amusement park. For me, it was a different feeling. One somehow devoid of materialism, supply chain headaches, and harried holiday travel. It is fun and fantasy and living in the present with joy and those you love.
Wishing you this now and throughout the year. Enjoy the video and photos below.