Christmas in the Algarve
If you fancy getting away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, then do try the Algarve! It is nowhere near as commercialised as the UK and things don’t really start happening until the end of November. Christmas decorations go up in the towns and villages and the palm trees along the water front promenades sparkle with Christmas lights.
The main resorts normally have various events throughout the Christmas season which are added to our events calendars as soon as we receive them (normally about the 3rd week in November). One year Faro even laid on some artificial snow which certainly had the children very excited as they certainly won’t see the real thing!
A lot of the shops have their usual range of goods in, rather than gift packs bought in just for Christmas. Christmas trees, decorations and lights, lovely scented candles are all part of Christmas, but one thing that is noticeably different is the sending (or in this case, not sending!) of Christmas cards. Cards tend to be more for the immediate family, not sent in bulk! So the cards in the shops are, on the whole, rather expensive as they are individually wrapped and don’t come in boxes. We did see a few boxes in some shops, but they were still quite expensive and not much choice. Maybe the Portuguese have got the right idea?
During October supermarket shelves start to fill up with very tempting boxes of sweets and chocolates and the very Algarvean boxes of beautifully decorated marzipan sweets, little fig cakes in various shapes and all sorts of glacé fruits, dried fruits and nuts. Come mid-November there are delicious cakes decorated with glacé fruits and nuts, added to the always tempting displays of mouth-watering cakes and pastries that the Algarve is so well known for.
All the traditional foods for Christmas are available – turkey, cranberry sauce, bread sauce (if you don’t make your own!), stuffing mixes and chestnuts aplenty. Turkeys are usually fresh and in all the supermarkets and butchers; the extras we found in some of the main supermarkets, like Intermarché, but also in some of the smaller supermarkets like the Ali-Supers. You don’t see Christmas puddings, mince pies or traditional fruit Christmas cakes everywhere, but there are lots of “English” food shops around that you can find them in.
If anyone is wondering about sprouts and parsnips, sprouts are available, though funnily enough we did struggle to find them for Christmas, but there were plenty around afterwards! Parsnips are more difficult – we have spotted them occasionally but don’t always manage to get them for Christmas. Never mind!
We have been to both of the Algarve’s big shopping centres at Christmas now (Forum Algarve in Faro and Algarve Shopping in Guia) and although at first it felt a little strange shopping on Christmas Eve in the sunshine, we soon got used to it! There’s nothing more enjoyable than pottering around the decorated shops, listening to Christmas music and seeing smiles from fellow shoppers and shop assistants! People looked like they had all the time in the world to get their last gifts – rather different than the frustrating queues of previous years with people fighting over the last turkey or pack of Brussels sprouts! And we’ve never had so much help in choosing what to buy from shop assistants! On a practical note, supermarkets extend their opening hours from the beginning of November, so most are open all day 7 days a week including bank holidays; which probably helps to alleviate any chaos (although we’re not convinced that there would be any anyway!).
Christmas celebrations in Portugal traditionally start on December 8th, (the day of “Our Lady of the Conception”) and end on twelfth night. Christmas itself is celebrated on Christmas Eve night with a big family meal, traditionally of “bacalhau” (salted cod fish), and lots of delicious savoury and sweet nibbles. (“Fatias Douradas” – slices of bread dipped in a milk, sugar and egg mix, fried and dusted with cinnamon are one of the favourite Christmas nibbles in Algarvean homes along with various almond sweets.) Presents are opened at midnight and then Christmas Day is for relaxing with family and friends.
New Year in the Algarve
When it comes to deciding what to do at New Year, do you struggle to think what to do? New Year celebrations can become very expensive, with buying bar or club tickets and booking taxis, so why not think about getting more for your money and having a New Year with a difference?
We usually watch the firework displays on the river front in Lagos and (as long as it’s a clear night) get a view of Portimão’s display as well! Albufeira are well known for their open air concert at Fisherman’s Beach (Praia dos Pescadores) on New Year’s Eve and all the bars and clubs across the Algarve stay open until the early hours for the celebrations to continue.