Happy New Year. For me, 2022 was an instrumental year as I moved to Portugal. I’ve now been living in Portugal for five months and the time has flown by. I am sure 2023 will be a mixture of excitement and challenge. Hopefully in equal measure.
The festive period has been quiet for me. I’m content with that.
Natal [Christmas] in Portugal is so less commercialised than in the UK, which means it is a world away from the US. Here in Portugal, the focus is on family and tradition. Pai Natal delivers a few presents and there are a few Christmas lights strung around the village. Outside of that, there is little to show of the festive season.
I know the larger towns, such as Castelo Branco and Serta, have Christmas markets and there is a buzz of activity to celebrate the season. For those people who must have a large Christmas Tree, piles of presents, and overindulge the corporates, it can be done in Portugal.
The quieter, less commercialised, approach appeals to me. Maybe, after all these years, I should admit that, deep down, I really am Scrooge.
However, I am committed to integrating and participating in Portuguese village life, so understanding and learning these traditions are important. It’s not that easy, but it’s about small steps.
The first step is to be in the know as to what is going on and where. I found out about a concert in the Church and the Christmas Dance the day before they took place. There is the unwritten and unspoken promotion of these events. Quite simply, everyone knows about them as they take place at the same time, day, and venue every year. Not quite so easy for an “estrangeiro” [stranger].
The Maderios de Natal [Christmas bonfire] is a bonfire in the centre of the village that is lit after Missa do Galo [Midnight Mass]. However, in my village, it is lit around 9 horas on Christmas Eve.
There are many different versions of the tradition of the Maderios but I’ll share what I believe are the two main ones.
The first is that the bonfire was built by young active servicemen who returned to their village for Natal. En route, they gathered wood to build the largest and brightest bonfire in the area. There is still a competitive element today where trailer loads of wood are added to the Maderios.
A second version is that bonfires are made to celebrate and welcome the rising of the sun, in line with the old pagan celebrations in honour of the Winter Solstice. Once again, they are lit after Missa do Galo and they are supposed to burn all night.
Our Maderios was built next to the Church by the (not so) young men of the village. Four tree stumps, roots and all, formed the base of the bonfire. Over the next week, villagers added waste wood to it, including the odd piece of furniture.
Let me refer back to “next to the Church”. The Church is in the centre of the village and on a corner of the busiest road junction in the village. And yes, the Maderios was built on a road, on this main junction. Oh, how I love Portuguese tradition overrides the “jobsworth” and bureaucrats.
On Christmas Eve it was chuva forte [heavy rain]. So much chuva that I was expecting some of the villagers to be building an ark with the wood as opposed to lighting it. But with the rain stopping a little after 9pm, I headed up to the Maderios.
While the Maderios had been lit and was burning well, there was no one else around. Either they had decided not to venture out or had already returned home. Either way, I took a few minutes to watch the dancing flames, and the crackling of the fire and reflect on my move to Portugal.
I went for a short walk around the village during the break in the persistent rain. During my walk, I didn’t see a single person and even the village cats and dogs had decided not to venture out on what was, in all essence, a miserable evening.
Christmas Day consisted of a quick visit to the farm to check on the cats, followed by watching a few films, rounded off with slow-cooked lamb which had been given to me by a Portuguese neighbour. A day of relaxation.
On Boxing Day I was invited to friends for a meal. A fantastic meal and it was great to meet some of their other friends. Boxing Day though is a British tradition of giving gifts to the poor for them to “unbox”. As a former retailer, its importance is more about Boxing Day sales than any other meaning.
In Portugal, December 26 is just like any other day. While Portugal has more Bank Holidays than the UK when they fall on a weekend, they don’t get rolled on to the next “working” day and therefore, it felt quite strange that people were pretty much all back to work and it was almost “business as usual”.
Feliz Anos Novo 2023
New Year’s Eve continued a similar pattern. After some work on the farm, it was back home. Fortunately, there was no rain during the day, although I know other areas of Portugal were expecting severe weather and numerous firework displays and events were cancelled.
For me, it was a relaxing evening. So much so that I fell asleep early evening watching a film. This meant I was awake come midnight and was able to watch all the fireworks that were taking place across the village.
Today, I plan to complete another walk. Weather permitting. Oh, I have become such a good-weather walker!
Quinta Sem Nome
Over the last week, I have managed to do quite a bit of work on Quinta Sem Nome [No Name Farm]. I really need to give some thought, and I welcome suggestions, as to what to call my Quinta.
I’ve completed a section of the fence which now means the whole quinta is fenced and protected from javali [wild boar]. However, my understanding is that if they want to break in, they’ll find a way.
My plan is, where possible, to adopt a regenerative approach to my small farming venture. Ideally, this will be as close to a “no-dig” model as possible so preparation of the vegetable plots has continued with weed matting being put down. Some areas will initially need heavier cultivation, but that will be limited.
I’ve also cleared the wild heather from the west olive grove (oh, that sounds posh). The east grove and vineyard to do over the next couple of weeks ahead of having my own maderios.
And the compost pile is growing at a fast pace. Because of the wet weather and the volume and type of green waste, the pile has needed turning much more often than hoped but it’s starting to decompose. Not that I’m becoming an expert on composting, but I have definitely learnt a lot.
Finally, despite all the rain, I’ve bought a regador [watering can]. Maybe that was my Natal present to myself!
As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you will continue to join me in 2023 as I continue my adventure. It is certainly going to be a busy, fun, challenging and exciting time. I plan to be back to writing weekly again so fasten your seatbelt!
Thank you, your continued support is much appreciated, and I am grateful for your interest in my adventure!
Melhores cumprimentos. Até logo.