This year was the very first year that I spent Christmas away from my family and away from Australia. Christmas has never been a huge deal for me because my parents immigrated to Australia from the former Soviet Union, where the 25th of December had zero significance. If it were not for school and TV, my family would have no idea how to celebrate Christmas. I like the traditions we have created during this festive time in Australia, and while many of my fellow expat friends in Lisbon flocked home for the holidays, I did not. I’ve always liked the idea of having a winter Christmas and was very excited to spend it right here in Portugal, for the very first time.
I headed to my boyfriend’s family house, located in the South-Eastern region called Alentejo. Alentejo is a fantastic part of Portugal, famous for their olive oil, olives and overall delicious regional cuisine. I highly, highly recommend a visit to this region if you ever get the chance. I have been to my boyfriend’s hometown of Moura before, a small town situated amongst the countryside where everybody knowns everybody. This is a concept i’m definitely not used to and find somewhat entertaining. The way the locals stare at me as I walk through town. Living amongst people who live life slowly and simply is a refreshing experience. I was looking forward to spending Christmas here as it’s always nice to get away from the busy capital city of Lisbon. Being a highly sensitive introvert, the crowded, noisy, polluted and fast-paced city life can get overwhelming for me from time to time. And so Christmas in Moura has been a relaxing, peaceful, joyful and lovely time indeed.
Being a predominantly catholic country, the Portuguese like decorating the inside of their home with a nativity scene of the Jesus crib. The amount of detail that goes into each part of the nativity piece is incredible, I love this tradition, regardless of my own religious beliefs. Some people also add a Christmas tree, but usually only families with young children. For this Christmas, my boyfriend’s mum put up a small Christmas tree and I brought Christmas stockings for everyone to hang by the fireplace… for our very first Portuguese-Aussie Xmas! We spent the evening of the 24th of December eating lots and lots of delicious food including: presunto (leg of pig sliced by hand off the bone), a variety of delicious local cheeses, crab meat, seafood pâté, grilled garlic prawns (aka shrimp), fresh prawns, mussels in some kind of magical sauce, a big roasted lamb and plenty of red wine to accompany all. Dessert was a classic Australia Xmas dessert- Pavlova, made by yours truly. We opened gifts at midnight, watched Home Alone (my family tradition!) and all fell asleep on the couch from over-indulgence. Christmas day included a slow morning and a beautiful lunch composed of my absolute favorite Portuguese dish: grilled octopus with baby potatoes drenched in fucking great olive oil. We all then took a walk (finally, some exercise that did not include chewing food) by the local lake and had a very chilled night in.
I truly loved this first Christmas away from ‘home’. Just as the Portuguese like to do all other things, this Christmas was slow, indulgent and very joyful. What mattered most, as it always should, was being with the people you love, respect and care about without any other distractions or priorities. Other things that help: good food, lots of laughter and plenty of relaxing moments. Because when all the other parts of the year may feel busy, this time of year should definitely not. Last but not least, I want to say how wonderful it feels to be able to create ‘home’ wherever you go in this world. For me, ‘home’ is wherever I feel at peace within myself and wherever love exists. I hope you felt at home this year for Christmas.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, friends!