On Christmas Eve Portuguese families gather around the Christmas tree and the Nativity Scene (“Presépio”) to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Catholicism is the main religion in Portugal. Thus, the Nativity Scene is a very important part of the celebration. Traditionally, children are in charge of collecting materials for the Crèche.
While some families only display the three main figures, Infant Jesus, Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, others create large scenes with the three figures, the Three Wise Kings, the shepherd and the sheep, lakes (made with mirrors) and hills (made with stones, moss, and clay).
Many families attend the Midnight Mass (called "Missa do Galo"). After mass they gather around the table and have supper (called "Ceia de Natal").
On Christmas Eve, supper (called "Consoada") consists of codfish with boiled potatoes and cabbage. After the meal, people eat traditional fried desserts: "filhoses" are made of fried pumpkin dough; "rabanadas" are similar to french toast; "azevias" are round cakes made of a crust filled with a mixture of chick peas, sugar, and orange peel; "aletria" is a vermicelli sweet with eggs (typical of Douro and Minho regions). Another traditional dessert is "Bolo Rei". This is a fruitcake that is typically a New Years cake, but is becoming popular during Christmas Holidays.
In the cake there are two surprises: one is a little present like a fake ring, or a little doll, or a medal. The other is not as welcomed. There is a raw broad bean. Whoever gets this bean has to buy the "Bolo Rei" in the coming year. In addition to these desserts there are many other that differ from region to region. On Christmas Day, people eat stuffed turkey for lunch and the traditional desserts.
Some families will open the presents (that are displayed around the Christmas tree) on Christmas Eve around midnight. Children open them in the morning of the 25th, Christmas Day. Some families put one shoe ("sapatinho") of each child, instead of a stocking, next to the chimney,the Christmas Tree or the fireplace so that "O Pai Natal" (Father Christmas) can leave them presents. Some believe Santa Claus brings the gifts, others believe Jesus brings them. Most children write letters to Infant Jesus asking for presents rather than to Santa Claus.
During the holiday season towns are decorated with lights. The festivities end on January 6, "Dia de Reis".
The main streets of Lisbon are decorated in the vicinity of the larger stores and boutiques. But Christmas in the countryside is more of a religious event, where families gather the best of their harvest and share it with others at the Parish Church. In some regions of the country, carolers sing Christmas carols (called "Janeiras") in the streets.