Monday, December 15, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Traditions: Brazil and Portugal

Brazil is a mix of people from many parts of the world; therefore, Christmas traditions reflect those origins and also vary by regions. In northeastern Brazil, it is common to display a Presépio in churches, homes, and stores. People also enjoy the folk play Los pastores, where the shepherds are replaced by shepherdesses and a gypsy attempts to kidnap the Infant Jesus.

A very common tradition among friends and family is the amigo secreto. At the beginning of December, participants in the game write their name on a piece of paper. Each participant takes a paper (but does not reveal the name of the person on it). During the month there are exchanges of correspondence among the participants who use apelidos. On Christmas, family and friends gather to reveal their secret friends and offer them a special gift.

In Portugal, the winter holidays are very important, as families get together, sharing the joy of the holidays. Every house and every small town display the Crèche. On Christmas Eve, families gather for the consoada, which traditionally consists of boiled codfish and potatoes with cabbage and other vegetables. Traditional fried desserts are served after the meal: filhoses or filhós, rabanadas, azevias, or aletria.  

One specific Christmas tradition to Portugal are the Janeiras, which consists of a group of friends or neighbors going from house to house singing and sometimes playing instruments. Traditionally, people go out to the streets to sing Janeiras between December 25 and January 6. While singing, they review the most important events of the year with a spirit of happiness and great humor. At the end, singers are rewarded with chestnuts, nuts, apples, and cured sausages.

Boas Festas! = Happy Holidays!
Feliz Natal! = Merry Christmas!
Presépio = Nativity scene; the word comes from "presepium", meaning "bed of straws"
Los Pastores = the Shepherds
amigo secreto =  secret friend
apelidos = false names 
Crèche = Nativity scene
consoada = family dinner
filhoses or filhós = desserts made of fried pumpkin dough
rabanadas = bread mixed with egg and syrup
azevias = round cakes made of a crust filled with a mixture of chick peas, sugar, and orange peel
aletria = vermicelli sweet with eggs, typical of Norte region


Bacalhau da Consoada (Portuguese Christmas Eve Cod)


  • 2 pounds salt cod, cut into 6 or 8 fillets
  • 1 1/2 pounds potatoes, boiled in their skins and peeled while still hot
  • 1 large head cabbage, cut into 8 pieces, blanched until just tender
  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half
  • For the sauce
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, per person
  • 1 clove garlic, per person, minced
  • 1 teaspoon wine vinegar, per person (or less to taste)


  • 1. Rinse the cod under cold running water to remove any surface salt. Place the fish pieces in a large nonreactive pot, cover with water and refrigerate (covered) for 24 hours, changing the water several times.
  • 2. Pour off the water, and refill with enough boiling water to cover the fish by several inches. Cover the pan with a heavy dishtowel and leave the cod to soak in the hot water for 30 minutes. (If the fish isn’t cooked fully, simmer gently until finished.) Drain the cod, and remove any bits of skin or bone.
  • 3. To make the sauce, bring the oil and garlic to a boil in a small saucepan, remove from the heat, add the vinegar, beat well and serve in a sauceboat.

Note: All these items must be cooked at the last minute, just before serving, so as to be brought to the table at their best. They are served on big platters, separately.

Janeiras (Portuguese carols)

Boas Noites Meus Senhores
Boas noites meus senhores
Boas noites vimos dar
Vimos pedir as Janeiras
Se no-las quiserem dar

Aqui vimos, aqui vimos
Aqui vimos bem sabeis
Vimos dar as boas festas
E também cantar os reis

Ano Novo Ano Novo
Ano Novo melhor ano
Vimos cantar as Janeiras
Como é de lei cada ano

Levante linda senhora
Desse banquinho de prata
Venha-nos dar as Janeiras
Que está um frio que mata

As Janeiras são cantadas
Do Natal até aos Reis
Olhai lá por vossa casa
Se há coisa que nos deis

Ano Novo Ano Novo
Ano Novo melhor ano
Vimos cantar as Janeiras
Como é de lei cada ano
Vimos cantar as Janeiras
Como é de lei cada ano

Saturday, December 13, 2014

12 Days of Christmas: French traditions

In France, Christmas is a time for the family to reunite, and also for people to be generous. Nearly every home displays a crèche populated with santons, as well as a sapin de Noël. Children leave their shoes or sabots by the fireplace to be filled with presents.

The celebration of Christmas varies by regions: most provinces celebrate it on the 25th of December, but in the eastern and northern parts of the country, it starts on December 6th with the celebration of la fête de Saint Nicolas. In Lyon, on December 8th they celebrate la Fête des Lumières, when Lyonnais put candles in their windows to light up the city, paying homage to the Virgin Mary.

In general, people attend la Messe de Minuit on Christmas Eve when they sing les chants de Noël, followed by a big dinner, called le Réveillon. The menu varies by regions, with dishes including la dinde aux marrons, les huîtres, l'oie, and boudin blanc. For dessert, they serve the traditional bûche de Noël.

Joyeux Noël = Merry Christmas!
crèche (la) =  nativity
santons (les) = little saints; little clay figures representing the Holy Family, the shepherds, and the Magi, but also local dignitaries and characters.
sapin de Noël (le) = Christmas tree
sabots (les) = wooden clogs
Messe de Minuit (la) =  Midnight Mass
chants de Noël (les) = Christmas carols
dinde aux marrons (la) = turkey stuffed with chestnuts
huîtres (les) = oysters
oie (l') = goose
boudin blanc = white pudding
bûche de Noël (la) = yule log; a log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. Representative of the special wood log burned from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day in the Périgord, which is a holdover from a pagan Gaul celebration.


Bûche de Noël

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
1/4 cup white sugar
confectioners' sugar for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 10x15 inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whip cream, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until thick and stiff. Refrigerate.
2. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until thick and pale. Blend in 1/3 cup cocoa, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, and salt. In large glass bowl, using clean beaters, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, and beat until whites form stiff peaks. Immediately fold the yolk mixture into the whites. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Dust a clean dishtowel with confectioners' sugar. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and turn the warm cake out onto the towel. Remove and discard parchment paper. Starting at the short edge of the cake, roll the cake up with the towel. Cool for 30 minutes.
4. Unroll the cake, and spread the filling to within 1 inch of the edge. Roll the cake up with the filling inside. Place seam side down onto a serving plate, and refrigerate until serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving. 

Chants de Noël
These are a few of the most popular Christmas carols in their original French version.

Douce nuit (Silent Night)

Douce nuit, sainte nuit !
Dans les cieux ! L'astre luit.
Le mystère annoncé s'accomplit.
Cet enfant sur la paille endormit,
C'est l'amour infini,
C'est l'amour infini ! 

Mon beau sapin (O Christmas Tree)

Mon beau sapin,
Roi des forêts,
Que j'aime ta verdure.
Quand vient l'hiver
Bois et guérets
Sont dépouillés
De leurs attraits.
Mon beau sapin,
Roi des forêts,
Que j'aime ta parure.

Falalalala (Deck the Halls)

Que l'on chante qu'on s'apprête
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Sonnez pipeaux et trompettes
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Car c'est la joie qu'on apporte
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Ouvrez donc grandes vos portes

Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Friday, December 12, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Traditions: Spain and Mexico

In Spain, Christmas is traditionally celebrated with an elaborate Nacimiento, people attending the Misa del Gallo at midnight on December 24th, and having their Christmas dinner, which includes the traditional Pavo Trufado de Navidad, afterwards.

But what sets Spain apart at this time of the year are the Hogueras, a tradition that celebrates the winter solstice. People jump over fires as a symbolic protection against illness. This tradition is typically observed in the regions of Granada and Jaen. 

In Mexico, the Christmas celebrations start 9 days in advance with the posadas: each night, after dark, two children lead the procession, carrying a small pine-decorated platform, that bear replicas of Joseph and Maria riding a burro. All other participants in the posada carry lighted long candles and sing an old traditional song asking for shelter to a specific house. Each night they go to a different house. On Christmas Eve, people go to the Misa de Gallo, and when they return home, they have their traditional Christmas dinner, which commonly consists of tamales, rellenos, menudo and atole.  


Nacimiento = nativity scenes
Misa del Gallo = the Mass of the Rooster
Hogueras = bonfires
burro = donkey
tamalesa Mexican dish of seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough and steamed or baked in corn husks
rellenosstuffed, roasted, fresh poblano peppers
menudoa spicy Mexican soup made from tripe
atolea traditional hot corn and masa based beverage of Mexican and Central American origin


Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas Turkey with Truffles)

1 turkey of 9 pounds.
1 1/2 pounds. minced lean pork
2 1/4 pounds. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
3 tins (of 3 oz) truffles (mushrooms)
5 1/4 oz "jamon serrano"
7 oz belly of pork in rashers
6 eggs
For garnish: 
Apple puree, Plums, Pineapple, oranges and maraschino cherries
For the stock:
Carcass and giblets of the turkey
1 pound carrots
1 pound leeks
1 pound onions
1 stick of celery
2 ham bones
1.2 oz gelatin
1. Place the turkey upside down, cut the skin along the backbone, and using the fingers, ease away the skin in one piece, first on one side of the backbone and then on the other. It is elastic and should come away easily.

2. Keep the breasts apart, making fillets of the thickest parts and cutting into strips. Remove the meat from the legs and wings, etc., and mince it with the pork and veal, putting it all into a bowl. Season with salt and ground black pepper, add the chopped truffles and their juice, and the ham and belly of pork in strips. Leave to marinate for 4 hours, together with the beaten eggs.

3. Remove the sliced truffles and the strips of ham and belly of pork, and reserve. Then knead together the filling thoroughly by hand.

4. Now spread out the skin of the turkey on the working surface and lay the fillets on top like the pages of a book. Cover the breasts with a layer of the minced meat and then with one of ham and belly of pork strips, breasts and slices of truffle, repeating the operation until the ingredients are used up. Using a stout needle, sew together the edges of the skin and also the holes made by the wings and legs.

5. Place the sew-up skin with its filling on a white napkin, roll it around and sew with large stitches, then tie it into a roll with uncolored string.

6. Put the roll into a large saucepan, together with the cut up carcass and cut up vegetables.  Add the ham bones, the gelatin and a few egg shells. Cover with 3 liters of cold water and boil briskly for 3 hours (1 ½ hours each side), seasoning with salt and ground pepper. Make sure that it is evenly cooked, then remove the roll and leave it on a dish to drain and cool.

7. Remove the cloth in which it is wrapped, wring out the juice into the cooking liquid, rinse out the cloth and again wrap up the roll without sewing. Put it on a dish, place a chopping board on top, and on top of this a weight of 6 or 7 pounds. Press for 12 hours and then put into the refrigerator.

8. Boil the cooking liquid without a lid, reducing it to 2 pints if converting it into a jelly. If strained, this makes a magnificent soup or consomme. If required thicker, add three or four leave of gelatin. Cut the roll into slices 1/2 inch thick. Serve with puree of apples and plums and decorate with slices of fresh pineapples and orange and with maraschino cherries.

Champurrado (atole de chocolate)

6 cups whole milk
1 cup masa harina--corn flour
2 cups water
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, grated
1 cinnamon stick
Heat the mild and chocolate in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the chocolate. When chocolate is completely dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside to keep warm. Mix the masa harina with the water in another saucepan; place over low heat, add the cinnamon stick, and cook until the mixture has thickened and the masa becomes translucent. Add the chocolate milk and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer for a few minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve the champurrado hot in cups or mugs.


Pidiendo Posada

En el nombre del cielo
os pido posada
pues no puede andar
mi esposa amada.

Aquí no es mesón,
sigan adelante
Yo no debo abrir,
no sea algún tunante.

Venimos rendidos
desde Nazaret.
Yo soy carpintero
de nombre José.

No me importa el nombre,
déjenme dormir,
pues que yo les digo
que nos hemos de abrir.

Posada te pide,
amado casero,
por sólo una noche
la Reina del Cielo.

Pues si es una reina
quien lo solicita,
¿cómo es que de noche
anda tan solita?

Mi esposa es María,
es Reina del Cielo
y madre va a ser
del Divino Verbo.

¿Eres tú José?
¿Tu esposa es María?
Entren, peregrinos,
no los conocía.

Dios pague, señores,
vuestra caridad,
y que os colme el cielo
de felicidad.

¡Dichosa la casa
que alberga este día
a la Virgen pura.
la hermosa María!