It’s long been put to bed in many households, but Christmas is finally over here in Portugal on 6th January, the Day of Kings, or ‘Dia de Reis’. I reluctantly take down my tree and dismantle the crib in the fireplace for another year, and remind myself of the connection to the kings. Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas, and the day when we celebrate the arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem, bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. Traditionally in Portugal it’s a day for families to eat together after work, and perhaps share small gifts. It’s almost certain that ‘Bolo Rei’ will make an appearance. This cake is in the shape of a crown, decorated with candied peel ‘jewels’ and containing a bean. If you’re the lucky person with the bean in your portion, it’s your turn to buy the cake next year.
Nice traditions, aren’t they? And so I’m taking you back to a very traditional village, here in the Algarve. You might remember the decorations in the streets of joyful Santa Rita? We returned a day or two later to visit their display of Nativity scenes.
Inside the simple community centre we were greeted warmly, then left to look around. Russian dolls, amazingly intricate arrangements of abalone and finely worked and sculpted shells, lovingly constructed tableaux and displays carved from wood, all sat side by side on table tops and boxes. Some of the figures were tiny, some taller. Some serious, some smiling. Some were woven from rafia, wrapped around with linen cloaks. Some inhabited a book, or a log of wood. Astoundingly, some were even made of paper, folded and coiled, round and round. There seemed no end to the ingenuity in telling the Christmas story.
The notice explained the ancient tradition of building a small altar in the home for baby Jesus, decorated with oranges and other fruits, and offerings of bread for the prosperity of the family. Outside again, we paused to admire the village one last time.
If it wasn’t such a long walk to the sea, I could live there! Happy Epiphany, everybody!
Some reminders of Christmas past :