Christmas Traditions on Madeira Island

The month of December can be a very busy one … especially for those who are preparing for the holidays festivities and Madeiran traditions. One of these traditions is the Presépio …. which is set up starting from 8th of December. It is the Christmas Nativity with all the usual figurines. You will find it in most homes here on Madeira and also in hotels and restaurants.

A hint: when you come across a Presépio … take a few minutes to contemplate the work and if you see the owner/maker of it, praise their work. If you do this before ordering dinner … you might get a discount.

Presépio

Apart from the Presépio, Madeira also has other Christmas customs … such as Lapinha. Lapinha is a display with the figure of baby Jesus on top of what looks like a miniature mountain. In the middle they usually display fruits and the bottom there are small pots of freshly sprouted wheat. The believe is that the seeds are potted between 1st and 8th of December …. and if the wheat is later planted and grows well, a good harvest is assured. Most Lapinha’s are extended with all kind of toys, miniature village, wooden trunks, stones and plastic animals. Some more elaborate constructions boast even mountains made of hardened, dark paper, and water in form of ponds or even a stream. Sapatinhos (Ladies Shoes orchids) and other flowers are also used.

Other tradition is that on the nine days before 24th of December, devoted Madeirans go to mass (very early) in the morning …. to pray for Mary’s nine months of pregnancy, … and each service is finished with a small get-together in front of the church …. most of the times chanting songs, music and enjoying home-made liquor.

But that is not all ….
The traditional-conscious Madeiran, on New Year’s Eve, carries something borrowed, some coins … and 12 raisins in hand. Equipped with these …. at the stroke of midnight … he/she can make 12 wishes … that might be granted until next December.

These are the traditions I could come up with. If I missed any, then please tell us which one in the comments. Obrigado!

Madeira Christmas Traditions

The month of December is a very busy one … especially for the locals who are preparing for the holidays festivities and traditions. One of these traditions is the Presépio …. which is set up from 8th of December. Christmas Nativity with all the usual figurines. You will find it in in most homes here on Madeira and also in all the hotels and restaurants.

A hint: take a minute … contemplate the Presépio and praise to the owner the work they have done. If you do this before ordering dinner … you might even get a discount.

Lapinha - Foto Patxocas

Apart from the Presépio, Madeira also has other Christmas customs … such as Lapinha. Lapinha is a display with the figure of baby Jesus on top of what looks like a miniature mountain. In the middle they usually display fruits and the bottom there are small pots of freshly sprouted wheat. The believe is that the seeds are potted between 1st and 8th of December …. and if the wheat is later planted and grows well, a good harvest is assured. Most Lapinha’s are extended with all kind of toys, miniature village, wooden trunks, stones and plastic animals. Some more elaborate constructions boast even mountains made of hardened, dark paper, and water in form of ponds or even a stream. Sapatinhos (Ladies Shoes orchids) and other flowers are also used.

Other tradition is that on the nine days before 24th of December, devoted Madeirans go to mass very early in the morning …. to pray for Mary’s nine months of pregnancy, … and each service is finished with a small get-together in front of the church …. sometimes chanting songs and enjoying home-made liquor.

But that is not all ….
The traditional-conscious Madeiran, on December 31st before the réveillon, carries something borrowed, some coins … and 12 raisins in hand. Equipped with these …. at the stroke of midnight … he/she can make 12 wishes … that might be granted until next December.

Missa do Parto and Missa do Galo

Missa do parto (Childbirth Mass) is one of the religious mass celebrations that takes place in most churches on the Madeira Island. It is a Christmas tradition that starts nine days (novena) before Christmas. Each day of those nine days represents a month of the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary, and it finishes with the midnight mass (Missa do Galo) on 24th December.

The services have to take place before daybreak in recognition that the baby Jesus was born at night. In many locations the neighbors and church visitors all unite celebrating with instruments and singing traditional songs. Madeirans wake up very early in the morning to attend the Missa de Galo as an expression of devotion to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is believed that if an individual completes the nine consecutive days, the act would merit a wish made by the devotee being granted.

Afterwards the Missa do Galo (Rooster’s Mass) takes place around 12:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve.

It is said that the mass owes its name to the idea that a rooster would have been among the first to witness the birth of Jesus, and thus be the one to announce it.

(Photo by padre José Luís Rodrigues)

2010 Christmas Illuminations Funchal Madeira

The city of Funchal transforms itself into a life-size nativity scene. It is Christmas Time on Madeira Island! The streets are decorated with millions of lights …. in all sizes and colors. They evoke images of the seasonal symbolism.

The city has put on her evening gala dress with lights embroidery and beautiful colors for the December festivities.

Christmas on Madeira anno 1896

Some of the native ceremonies on fête days are peculiarly interesting. I recollect well the Christmas I spent in Madeira.

It was a beautiful day; the birds chirped merrily in the gardens and the bright rays of the sun beamed radiantly in through the half-opened windows of the little English church.

A resident English clergyman had charge of it, the only English church on the island. It is a very picturesque- looking building, surrounded by a most lovely garden, standing back from the road, a narrow pathway leading up to it between two rows of trees and bushes, whose spreading branches joined overhead, make a natural covered archway to the main entrance.

Dinner was taken at Baroness Conceicão’s, and the afternoon passed right merrily. During the entire day the streets of Funchal were completely deserted. The mystery of this was afterwards explained by the fact that the native population spend their Christmas by congregating in one another’s houses and eating pig.

Another part of the Christmas celebration consists in making as much noise as possible. From early dawn till late at night a banging and booming rent the air as cannons, fire-crackers, gims and bombs exploded momentarily.

One felt really as though the island were under fusillade. In short, it seemed like a regular old-fashioned Yankee Fourth of July celebration. Certainly, it did not seem a fit celebration of the blessed Christmas Day, at any rate.

Now, New Year’s eve and New Year’s day, curiously enough, appear to be celebrated the world over in almost identical fashions. This is very noticeable, I think, in the different countries of Europe.

In Switzerland, especially, New Year’s day is celebrated with great eclaty and after the manner in which we celebrate it here in America. Just so among the Madeirans; on New Year’s eve, the discharge of musketry and cannon ”welcoming in the New Year”‘ is constant and tremendous, rendering sleep out of the question.

New Year’s day is taken up with feasting, and mumming in the streets is also a sport largely participated in. It is furthermore a religious custom to fly kites on that day. However, kite flying is at all seasons the great predominating and ever popular pastime of the islanders.

A fete day or a religious celebration – at either of which times there is always a legal holiday – takes place on the general average of once a week throughout the entire year, in Madeira. On these occasions kite flying is indulged in as the principal amusement.

A passage from the book THE MADEIRA ISLANDS by Anthony J. Drexel Biddle (1896)

Noite do Mercado – Christmas Night Market

Noite do Mercado (Night of the Market) is a traditional celebration in Funchal that will take place tonight and will last all night long. The location of this event will take place in the famous Funchal market (Mercado dos Lavradores) and the streets surrounding the market. It will be crowded with joyful people creating a real festive happening …. with lots of singing Christmas carols, dancing, drinking and having fun.

The bars in the area are opened all night and will be serving traditional drinks. Also the Christmas traditional carne vinho alhos (meat with wine and garlic) will go from hand to the mouth. Also present is a vast display of regional fruit and vegetable being sold … handy for those who want to do a last minute grocery shopping.
Continue reading “Noite do Mercado – Christmas Night Market”

Christmas under the Atlantic Ocean

Strange title … but it’s true. Madeira Diving School Tubarão Madeira came with the idea to place and decorate a Christmas tree on the sea bed.

They prepared the tree in a way that it was easy to place it under the water. The Christmas balls were filled with water in order not to drift off. This initiative was not only a surpirse for the visitors that were diving in the area …. but also for the fish who were not used to this human tradition … although some daredevils went nibbling on the balls.

The tree will stay underneath the ocean until the New Year and …. they will repeat this new tradition in the same site next year.
Continue reading “Christmas under the Atlantic Ocean”

Start of the Christmas Illuminations

The preparations for the Christmas and end-of-year celebrations are in full progress at this moment. The official opening of the New Year’s Eve Festivities in Madeira will take place on the 27th of November (Friday). If you do not want to miss this then you need to be in the area of Avenida Arriaga (Funchal) and watch the switching on of the Christmas illuminations.

Funchals Christmas Illuminations

From this day on, the main streets in the center of Funchal will be invaded by lights of all sizes and colors to produce designs that are very representative of the island’s characteristic and the time of year. One week later, on 4th of December, the outskirts of Funchal will also be lit up transforming Funchal into a real, life-size “nativity scene”.

In early December, the squares are decked with flowers. Poinsettias, holly and lady’s slipper orchids all help to brighten up the city’s streets. And then there are the Christmas carols ringing out in all the streets as if by magic inspiring everyone with the festive spirit. The streets fill with people in this atmosphere of great joy. Some are here to do their Christmas shopping, while others just want to enjoy the holiday buzz and atmosphere emanating throughout the city

With the center of the city lit up for Christmas, as then begins Festa (Festivities), the term used by the people of Madeira to call the celebration period of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The Festa is lived intensively by the people of Madeira right up to 6th January.

The official program includes exhibitions, concerts, and many more. The following are the most important dates:

  • 27th November – opening of the Christmas illuminations in the centre of Funchal
  • 04th December – general illumination of the entire amphitheatre of Funchal
  • 11th December – beginning of the Christmas exhibitions on Avenida Arriaga and other central locations of the city
  • 23rd December – Market Night
  • 28th December – St. Sylvester Race
  • 31st December – New Year’s Eve Firework Display
  • 6th January, 2009 – Twelfth Night Festival and End of the Madeira Festivities