Studying abroad is undoubtedly one of the more constructive decisions one can make when it comes to their time away at university. Immersing yourself in a new culture whilst at the same time studying for your degree can really help to enhance your university experience and with so many destinations to choose from, this can be an exciting period in your life.

One of the few drawbacks of studying abroad can however be the fact that you may well have to spend Christmas away from home. Finances, exams and your academic timetable could mean that travelling home may just not be feasible, but this does not have to be a disaster. Although we would all prefer to spend Christmas with our families, this can represent a gilt-edged opportunity to spend this period embracing a whole new culture which in turn can be very character building indeed.

In our latest article, we take a look at how to spend Christmas like the Portuguese

Portuguese Christmas Traditions

As an ardently catholic country, a Portuguese Christmas is inevitably centered around religion and in particular, the nativity. “Feliz Natal” or “Boas Festas” translated back into English as Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays and is typically spent with family and friends giving and sharing gifts and food. However, you will find that most gatherings are characterised by scenes of the nativity and in particular, that of the creche where the baby Jesus was born.

In fact, children are still charged with constructing this scene as many of us did at primary school, using materials such as mirrors, stones and clay to create scenery and really set the tone. If you’re looking to emulate Portuguese traditions and celebrations, making your own nativity with your housemates could be a great way to collaborate and enjoy Christmas just as the locals do.

Missa do Galo

Christmas season in Portugal also involves spending quite a bit of time at church but the most important event is an iteration of what we call Midnight Mass here in the UK, the Missa do Galo. Everyone then congregates to eat a supper called “Consoada” which is delicious cod served with potatoes and cabbage. This is then followed by “Filhoses”, fried pumpkin dough or “Rabanadad” which are quite similar to French toast.  This is all washed down with suitable quantities of Portuguese wine and beer making it a festive occasion and one that many locals look forward to all year.

If you are spending Christmas in Portugal, then you can visit your local church to see when the festivities begin or even look to hold your own gathering if your university friends and housemates are also staying for the festive season.

Portuguese traditions and celebrations, much like any region, do differ depending on where you are in the country but the above is pretty typical. You are also likely to find “Janeiras” in the streets singing Christmas carols, so you can choose to join them or just enjoy the fantastic atmosphere this creates when out and about socialising in Portugal at this time of year.

Dia de Reis

The festivities in Portugal tend to end around January 6th on Dia de Reis, a little later than they do here in the UK. The longer break could well be some welcome respite from the rigours of your degree and spending the festive season in a warm and sunny climate could also help any students who tend to get a bit down with the dreary UK weather at this time of year.


We hope that this guide to a Portuguese Christmas helps you enjoy this time of year, especially if it mean that you have to spend it away from many of your loved ones. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out some of the other great student resources we have available here at Collegiate!