It’s often said that the holidays are exhausting.  All that visiting with relatives, worrying about what gifts to purchase for whom, traveling between houses, and then there is the preparation and consumption of all that food!

This being my first holiday spent in Portugal, I  was without any of my family members or friends from home.  It seemed as if I would be destined to wallow in loneliness, sadness and self-pity, kicking myself for ever leaving the comfy confines of my home and the loving arms of my family and friends. 

Turned out, I wasn’t allowed to even consider being alone or sad for even a few minutes during the exceptionally long and event-filled celebration of  Christmas and New Year’s – certainly not when included in every holiday meal and get-together hosted by ‘my Portuguese family.’ 

Meet the Family!

This photo was taken Christmas Eve at the home of my wonderful landlord Jorge, who is peaking behind the head of his beautiful wife Maria Joáo (teal sweater).  Seated in front are the avós, the grandparents, Joáo and Rosalina, parents of Maria Joáo and Manocas.  Hugging then is Matilde, daughter of Maria Joáo’s sister Manocas, who is directly in the center.  The lovely young lady with her arm around her aunt is Jorge and Maria Joáo’s daughter, Maria Ana.  The back row from left to right is Joáo, Jorge & Maria Joáo’s son, who attends college in Lisbon.  Next is Henrique, who is studying medicine at the University of Madeira.  He  is the son of Manocas and the gentleman standing next to him, Luis, who is Jorge’s brother!  Yes, sisters married brothers.  

The celebrations got started on the 5th of December when Ferragudo decked itself out for it’s annual Christmas Market.  Music, food and fun filled the square for 3 days.  That weekend I attended a holiday dinner hosted by the Algarve Ex-Pat group and then joined some of  ‘the family’ for a concert at the local church presented by a choir that sang hymns and carols in 7 different languages. Afterward, we returned to Jorge and Maria Joáo’s for homemade hot chocolate and a traditional yellow sponge cake that you get with your fingers.  
The next week included a wonderful lunch on the beach at Club Nau with my good British friends and neighbors, Maureen and Pat Kelly, followed by a carol sing-along at the Episcopal church in Lagoa, which holds its services in a former Catholic convent built in the 1800’s.



With a day trip to Porches to see the beautiful pottery in the middle of this week (to be reported in a later blog post,) it was now time for the actual Christmas holidays!

I first have to share with you the misunderstanding that occurred.  I was under the impression that I was invited to Christmas Day dinner at Grandma & Grandpa’s so on Christmas Eve I had a bowl of soup and 1/2 a sandwich and drank a glass of wine at about 6 p.m. I was settled down with the choice of a good mystery or watching another episode of Jessica Jones on Netflix.

 I was in sweats and a t-shirt and looking my normal, stay-at-home grubby self when there was a knock on the door.  There was Jorge asking if I were ready. Ready for what, I asked? Dinner and presents, he said.  Huh? I said.  A quick call to his daughter, the one who speaks perfect English, to have her explain that not only was I dining with the family tomorrow but had been invited for tonight as well.  We would be opening our presents, as is the custom, at the stroke of midnight.  Get in the car, says Jorge.  NO! I said –  and tell him to go home and I would follow in 20 minutes!

Off to the shower, hair, make-up, a nice outfit, scurrying up the hill to Jorge and Maria Joao’s home for lot of wine, a huge dinner which began at 9 p.m. (you do remember I said I had eaten dinner at 6), numerous desserts and after-dinner drinks, gift-giving at midnight, home in bed by 1:30 a.m. and up the next morning to make deviled eggs and sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows for my contribution to the Christmas Day feast held at Grandma & Grandpas home – which started at 2 p.m – and included many more members of the family!

Here are just a few photos from those two events –








So you would think that now it was time to rest – and stop eating!  OH NO!  During the  week between Christmas and New Years was not only a big  dinner to celebrate Maria Joao’s birthday, but also a day trip to Faro to explore the old city (in later blog post), a beautiful holiday service at a very modern Catholic church and convent for Carmelite nuns and then a delicious dinner at Luis and Manocas’ beautiful flat in that city.

Then it was time to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a big dinner with family and friends, head to the church on the highest hill in town to watch the fireworks explode over the river in Portimao while drinking champagne and eating 12 raisins (a wish for each month is made as you eat each raisin) and lastly, a New Year’s Day luncheon.




My 12-raisen New Years Resolution – STOP EATING!!

But you know all about resolutions, don’t you?  The Portuguese do not stop celebrating until January 5th, which is the birthday of The 3 Kings which requires….a large dinner with family and friends!  By this time, I just couldn’t take one more photo of food – sorry.  Take my word when I say the cod was delicious, the desserts were sweet and the wine continued to flow!

It is now the 11th of January and I still need to share with you the beautiful photos of my visit to Porches and Faro but that will have to wait as I am off to SPAIN!  I was invited to join 2 American couples for a trip to Granada to tour the Alhambra and then to Seville.  I’ll be gone for 7 days and I am really looking forward to what will be my last excursion of any distance before I depart Portugal on the 30th of January.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and wishing you nothing but joy and happiness in the New Year!

Unitl next time….


  1. So proud of you ReAnn. I thought of you this weekend after visiting the NYTimes Travel Show and hearing about the travels of a group called, \”Gutsy.\” The group focus on building travel experiences that include in-home accommodations or visits with locals in countries around the world; but you're doing it already on your own. Way to go! xo Stay safe, Rose


  2. Hi ReAnn – just got caught up on your adventures since Thanksgiving and thoroughly enjoyed every descriptive word. When you come back to the USA to take care of your grandbaby, give me a call as I would love to hear all about your fabulous experiences from the \”horse's mouth\” as they say! Talk to you in February . . .


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