In Trás-os-Montes, the region located in the northeast of the country, there is a peculiar tradition about to take place…
From the "Boys' Party" to the "Saint Stephen's Party"
Between the 24th of December and the 4th of January there are many villages in Trás-os-Montes keeping ancient celebrations alive. The main ones are in Varge, Aveleda and Miranda do Douro.
It all started because of the pagan rituals of the winter solstice. People used to celebrate with fire and chants around the 22nd of December (in the northern hemisphere) to praise the sun and ask for a year of good crops. With the Christian movements across Europe later on, these pagan festivities were given another explanation and nowadays they take place between Christmas and the Twelfth Night. The sequence of events and timings might differ slightly from one village to another, but they all have the same roots.
Midnight mass and "Rooster's Bonfire"
On the day before Christmas, the men go to the woods early in the morning to chop wood. They take the typical local treats with them and sit together to share a meal in the middle of the day. After all the hard work is done they return to the village to unload the wood, which is brought down by noisy carriages pulled by oxes. The branches, trees and trunks are piled on the square in front of the main church and everyone goes home for supper.
After attending the midnight mass everyone gathers around the fire, known as "the rooster's bonfire", and sing together the typical local songs.
In some villages the fire is lit for New Year's Eve instead.
Party all the way to the church
The celebrations are quite odd and involve many characters, all male. The main ones are the caretos and the mordomos. The first are the single boys armed with rattles, dressed in colourful clothes and wearing creepy masks, which spread chaos across the village. The second literately translate to "the butlers" and are represented by the grown men that are voted yearly to organize all the events. Unlike the younger folks, they go door to door to wish happy festivities to every inhabitant and ensure everything goes "smoothly".
A quirky Christmas Day
After the Christmas mass, the caretos wake up very early and start running across the village, rattling, shouting and pushing the locals to the main square, where the next event takes place. An improvised stage is built and a sort of communal parody takes place. In front of all the inhabitants the young boys tease and criticise the community, making jokes and sharing embarrassing stories. The purpose is to purge and give everyone a clean slate for the new year.
Food brings people together
Gastronomy also plays a huge role during this time of the year. Pots are full to the brim and women are finally welcomed to participate in the celebrations. There's a lot of food, wine and laughter.
According to tradition on Christmas Day everyone eats cod, but in this part of the country it is also common to have octopus. Apart from these there are many side dishes and an overwhelming amount of desserts. If you're curious about the most typical Christmas treats we Portuguese eat check this article.
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