Vila Madeiro Penamacor, Portugal at Christmas Time

There are many Christmas traditions in Portugal, some the same as the UK and some completely different! On Christmas Eve a celebratory evening meal (consoada) of codfish (bacalhau) with potatoes and green peppers is eaten. As is very normal in Portugal, the main meal is followed by a truck load of sugar filled desserts and treats, including a King Cake (Bolo Rei), which is topped with canided fruits. Bolo Rei’s contain a broad bean and a surprise gift, if you find the gift you can keep it, if you find the broad bean, you have to pay for next year’s cake!  

As 94% of Portugal is catholic, families often attend midnight mass (Misa de Galo) after which they return home to find that Father Christmas (Pai Natal) or baby Jesus, has delivered presents and left them under their tree or by their nativity (presépio). Christmas Day is a quieter affair with families recovering from their late night and is seen as a time to eat leftovers known as ‘old clothes’ (roupas velhas).

Most towns and villages in our region of Penamacor collect a pile of wood so that they can light a bonfire outside their church on Christmas Eve. The wood is collected on the 7 December. Traditionally men who were conscripted for national service used to steal the wood, to try and build the largest fires outside their church. The bigger and longer the fire burns, the greater the triumph of good over evil. Nowadays the wood is donated but it is still considered a right of passage to be involved in collecting the wood. 

Our local village collected a few tractors full of wood for their own Madeiro and held a small bonfire on the evening of the 7 December to mark another successful collection (any excuse for a party in Portugal). The bonfire was put to good use as the hot coals were precariously shovelled out of the raging fire and used to fill up a BBQ made from an old oil drum which cooked huge slabs of pork and sardines. Again it was a case of help yourself, everything was free; it was after all nearly Christmas time!

Penamacaor itself celebrates the run up to Christmas in style. The Vila Madiero (Village of Wood) is a spectacular sight and is reputed to be the biggest Christmas fire in Portugal. We decided to go along to see the wood being brought into the town and were really astounded at the scale of the collection! Humungous trees, roots and logs were stacked high on a seemingly endless procession of trailers, pulled by decorated tractors. The whole occasion is celebrated by drinking (lots of it), music, market stalls, a live nativity with primary school children and lots and lots of celebration.

The huge pile of wood is is finally lit at outside the church on the 23 December. We are told that the flames and heat are so fierce the firefighters (bomberios) are on standby and regularly hose the fire down to quell the heat. It really is a spectacular sight.

Watching the Tractors Full of Wood for the Villa Madeiro, Penamacor, Central PortugalPiano Accordian, Villa Madeiro, Penamacor, Central PortugalGrabbing the Logs to Stack the Pile for Villa Madeiro, Penamacor, Central PortugalPenamacor's Villa Madeiro 2017, PortugalChristmas Tree, Penamacor at Night, Villa Madeiro, Penamacor, Central Portugal

Merry Christmas! Feliz Natal!

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Post Author: Topsy Turvy Tribe

Paul & Andrea ex-pats escaping the rat race with Chaos (aged 4) and Mayhem (aged 2) along for the adventure.

8 thoughts on “Vila Madeiro Penamacor, Portugal at Christmas Time

    Fiona Cambouropoulos

    (December 17, 2017 - 1:13 am)

    Oh my it looks like some wonderful traditions in Portugal and that bonfire is going to be quite something! Have a lovely Christmas out there.
    Fiona Cambouropoulos recently posted…Snowdrops not Snow in CornwallMy Profile

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (December 23, 2017 - 6:43 pm)

      Thanks Fiona, it’s really amazing to learn of the different customs and traditions here, Have a great Christmas too!

    Darren Coleshil

    (December 17, 2017 - 10:32 am)

    What an incredible sight.

    That tree at the end is stunning

    Thank you for linking up
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    (December 17, 2017 - 12:33 pm)

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bonfire that big, or just looks humounhous. I hadn’t realised how big it might be till I saw the picture of you stood next to them. Sounds like you’re going to have a brilliant time watching it all 🙂
    Notmyyearoff recently posted…Happy 7th Birthday Little ZMy Profile

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (December 23, 2017 - 6:41 pm)

      It really is the biggest bonfire ever! The size of the tree trunks make it look even bigger in person. We are going to miss watching it this year as we’re with family in Spain, but to be honest it looks rather scary for the boys and a bit too late for them to stay up too!


    (December 17, 2017 - 2:19 pm)

    That final shot of the tree is gorgeous – I’m a sucker for blue lights.

      Topsy Turvy Tribe

      (December 23, 2017 - 6:40 pm)

      Thanks Carol, us too, the blue lights are gorgeous aren’t they!

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