European Union Holiday Round-Up: Portugal, Cyprus, and Malta


Portugal
Christmas in Portugal is a quiet, family affair usually celebrated on Christmas Eve (December
24) rather than on the 25th of December. Traditionally, Portuguese families gather together for a
large meal on Christmas Eve of cod fish, potatoes, and cabbage followed by sweets like Bolo
Rei—or King’s Cake—a type of pastry with candied fruit and nuts that also contains a hidden
surprise, a raw broad bean. If you are ‘lucky’ enough to find the bean in your piece, it means
you must provide the cake next year.
After the meal, many people head to church for the Missa do Galo (or Mass of the Rooster).
During the service, an image of the baby Jesus is brought out and congregants line up to kiss it.
The image is then placed in the church nativity scene. Once the service is over, people return
home to open gifts beside brightly decorated Christmas trees.
Cyprus
For many Cypriots, the Christmas season begins on December 6 with the Feast of St. Nicholas
and ends on January 6 with the Feast of the Epiphany. However, December 25 is still the day
that many celebrate Christmas with friends and family.
On Christmas Eve, it’s tradition for children to sing carols and for everyone to enjoy sweets,
cookies, and fruit. Many Cypriots go to Church on Christmas Day to receive Holy Communion.
Following the service, it’s traditional to return home and enjoy a large feast.
Poinsettia flowers (also called Bethlehem or the Christmas Star) bloom in Cyprus near
Christmas, and you will find the bright flowers in many homes along with Christmas trees.
Another unique decoration often found on Cypriot homes is a cross wrapped in basil sprinkled
with holy water. The cross was traditionally used to ward off goblin-like spirits known as
kalikantzari which are thought to prey upon people and cause mischief in the 12 days leading up
to Christmas.
Malta
Like many countries, Christmas in Malta is both a religiously and socially important occasion. In
terms of traditions, most Maltese spend Christmas Eve with family enjoying a nice meal and
then head to midnight mass, where many churches are filled to capacity. Often, children will
give the night’s sermons—a point of honour that many will spend weeks preparing for.
Visiting cribs is probably the most popular and distinctly Maltese tradition around the Christmas
season. Cribs—yes, the kind normally reserved for babies—are found everywhere around this
tiny Mediterranean country. From private houses to businesses to churches, decorated cribs
displays—locally known as presepji—are found everywhere. Some displays are very artistic and
elaborate with mechanical figurines moving throughout the scene while others are more simple
and traditional.