How we celebrate New Year in Portugal

As you know, I’m living in the Netherlands where I spent my last New Year. If I had gone to Portugal during the festivities, it would be as follows:

Portuguese New Year Traditions

I would have bought:

Champagne and 12 raisins:

One for each month of the year. You should ask a wish for each.

Bolo-Rei (literally: King Cake):

This traditional Portuguese cake is usually eaten between Christmas (25th December) and Dia de Reis (literally Kings’ Day) on the 6th January.

Bolo Rei
Bolo Rei. Credit.

If you are in Lisbon, go to Confeitaria Nacional in the city’s downtown. This very beautiful tea house is the place par excellence to taste and buy the best Portuguese “Bolo Rei”. In the same family for five generations, they brought the recipe of the “Gateau des Rois” from France in the second half of the 19th century. Until today, this recipe is a very well kept secret.

Bolo-Rei is a round cake with a large hole in the centre, resembling a crown covered with crystallised and dried fruit. It is baked from a soft, white dough, with raisins, various nuts and crystallised fruit. Inside is hidden the characteristic fava (broad bean). Tradition dictates that whoever finds the fava has to pay for the Bolo-Rei next year. Initially, a small prize (usually a small metal toy) was also included within the cake. However, the inclusion of the prize was forbidden by the European Union for safety reasons.

Caldo Verde e Broa (Green Broth and Corn Bread):

This famous symbol of Portuguese cuisine is originated from Minho, province in the North of Portugal. The basic ingredients are potatoes, onions, kale, garlic, salt, olive oil and chourizo or linguica (types of sausage). Caldo Verde is a very simple and light soup, often consumed as a late supper or before a main course. Broa (Corn Bread) is also typical of Minho province. At New Year they are eaten after midnight.

Other traditions

I would make sure that I would respect the following traditions:

- Money in your pocket to attract richness for the New Year;

- Wear blue slippers/boxers/ panties to attract good fortune and harmony;

- Step down from a chair with your right foot, so the New Year will be a positive one;

- Banging pots and pans, so the bad spirits go away.


Regional Celebrations

Of course, if I would want to experience it in a more regional way, I could chose between the following local traditions:

Beiras and Alentejo – As Janeiras

Especially in Beiras and Alentejo provinces, in the first days of the year, we used to sing “As Janeiras” (The Januaries), a Portuguese tradition between the 1st and the 6th January. Several groups go from door to door singing and wishing a Happy New Year to their neighbours and friends. To demonstrate gratitude, they usually offer the leftovers from the Christmas holidays.

Tras-os-Montes – Festa dos Rapazes (Boys Festival)

In Bragança, boys and young men go around the town’s streets and alleys, dressed in burlap clothes, tin or wood masks and cow bells around the waist. They are dressing as caretos (a costume with masks) and they go to scare the village, specially women and children, They go from door to door demanding the king’s tribute (whatever the people wish to give) which they store in their surrão (a large bag worn by shepherds). They roam though the village armed with firewater (a kind of very young brandy), which they drink to fight the cold, playing pipes and singing old songs to cheer the streets.

Rio de Onor – Ramos Recheados (Stuffed Branches)

In Rio de Onor, this ritual is led by the young girls (maidens) of the town who collect from the village houses chouriça and salpicão (two tipes of portuguese smoked sausages) to make a branch. They also collect candies, chocolate and cakes to decorate it. The branch is auctioned and the profits go to Our Lady of Fátima (Nossa Senhora de Fátima), to whom the branch is dedicated. This typically transmontana (from Trás-os-Montes) village is very interesting to visit because of its traditional houses of two floors: upstairs, where the family lives and downstairs, where the cattle, cereals and other produce are stored.

Mogadouro – Culto do Fogo (Cult of Fire)

In Mogadouro, the young men, o velho (the old man) and the mordomo (the butler), go around the town asking for firewood the cepo (literally means “stump”) which will be used to feed the big bonfire burning at the centre of the village as a celebration of the new year.

Litoral – Banhos de Mar (Sea Baths)

In Carcavelos, Nazare, Figueira da Foz, Matosinhos and Vila Nova de Gaia, some locals go into the sea during the small hours of the first day of year.

Ilha da Madeira – Fogos de Artificio (Fireworks)

The midnight fireworks on the 31st of December are the trademark of Madeira’s new year’s eve celebration.

This ritual dates back to the time there was a strong English presence in the Island, the 18th century. At the time, Funchal (Madeira’s capital) was a mandatory stop for any British on his way to the colonies, as well as a known recovery resort for pulmonary problems (Empress Sissi of Austria visited when she had tuberculosis). In 1932, a commission was gathered to start leading what then became the Festas da Cidade (City Festivals) and still go on to this day, bringing tourists from all over the world.

The Funchal cove, in the form of an amphitheatre, with more than 250,000 light bulbs spread through the cliffs and slopes, is the ideal setting for this magnificent show.

This year, I had the champagne; the 12 raisins, the Caldo Verde, something new and something blue, and I watched a video of Madeira’s fireworks that I want to share with you. Enjoy!

NB: Please, stay attentive after the minute 2.50. It begins, in my opinion the best of the show.

Happy New Year!/ FELIZ ANO NOVO!

About the author

Sandra Silva
Sandra Silva has been living in the Netherlands since December 2007. Photography and travel writing are Sandra’s main activities, alongside learning Dutch and organizing a life abroad. She is a passionate lover of her country, history, photography, poetry, her cat and old photos. Main hobbies are reading and travelling.
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  • I love all those different traditions! It’s interesting that brides should also wear something new and something blue. I wonder where this tradition originated.

    We also eat something similar to your bolo-rei, we call it rosca de reyes. Ours is covered in a thick custard (crema pastelera)

  • Wow, it’s a good thing I put my reading glasses on. At first I saw a shopping list with champagne and 12 rabbits on it.
    It’s always great to learn the traditions of a culture I’ve never experienced and you did a thorough job of covering this one.Thank you !

  • Sean Oliver

    Wow, this is really in depth. Great post!

  • Margarida

    Gostei muito! Algumas tradições já conhecia, outras não. E adorei aprender!

  • I loved reading about all the different regional celebrations. And the cake looks delicious! I wish we had it in the UK too.

  • @ Ana: Something new is renovation, blue is harmony. Both useful in a marriage and at the New Year ;-)
    I’m curious now to taste “rosca de reys” ;-) Who knows one day I will be in Argentina in the New Year’s Eve. I enjoyed what I read about it here :-) Happy New Year!

  • @ Mike, you are so funny :-) ) the shopping list… You’re right! :-) ) Thank you so much for your compliments :-)
    I’m sure you will enjoy Portugal when you decide to go there. Be prepared to eat a lot…:-))
    Happy New Year!

  • @ Thank you, Sean, I’m glad you liked! My country has so much to offer. Just relax and enjoy! The people there like so much to have guests. They make everyone to feel at home…
    Happy New Year!

  • @ Margarida, I’m glad you liked too :-) I like this season very much! Happy New Year, my dear!

  • @ Liz, there is another version, Bolo-Rainha, without the crystallised fruit. I like more this one.
    If you want, I send you the Bolo-Rei recipe by mail.
    Happy New Year! :-)

  • ooh yes, I’d love that! Thank you Sandra. I like crystallised fruit so the Bolo Rei would be my favourite.