Who doesn’t love a free Christmas village and market? Well, if you don’t…stop reading.
My family loves these things. Cheesy Christmas music. Decorations galore. The Portuguese really embrace the holidays. The markets are full of roasted chestnuts, which sound great in theory, but in reality they taste like ass. Plus, my favorite drink, Ginja. This is a sweet cherry liqueur served in an edible chocolate cup for €1 per shot. I discovered these last Christmas and life hasn’t been the same since. Liquid gold, my friends.
The one element of these markets that throw us all off are the creepy elves and characters that loom around every corner. Like the elf in the picture below…just chilling in a tree. Pippa was terrified.
Or these creeps at the entrance….
It is always a mixed collection of odd characters. A psycho snowman, a weird fairy or my personal favorite, the cross dressing Santa’s helper. One of these people expressed an intense interest in my priest. She had a painted on mustache and a crazy wig and told my priest that he was very handsome. I promptly said that he was available and that they would make a good couple. The elf said that she was interested while speaking in a bizarre, fake male voice. My priest just laughed in that “this is awkward and I want to disappear” kind of way. My youngest daughter told the elf to back off because her dad was taken. The elf wandered off and tried to pick up another dad. Not the encounter you would expect at a Christmas fair, but it is one I have begun to enjoy. Maybe…a little too much. I am trying to squeeze in at least two more markets this season. You can’t buy for this type of comedy/torture.
I love church Christmas pageants. What I do not love is when parents get crazy and try to ‘one up each other’ in creating elaborate costumes or fancy outfits. When we lived in the South, it was common practice for parents to buy spectacular one-of-a-kind smocked dresses for their little girls to be angels in the church pageant.
I remember helping out one year and a little girl was crying her eyes out. She did not have a fancy white dress to play an angel, instead she had a white pillowcase with the head and arms cut out. She was so embarrassed and I felt sick for her. I decided that when my priest was in charge, things would be different.
At our church here in Portugal, they haven’t had a pageant in probably 15 years. I decided that we would host a ‘come as you are’ pageant. I have a simple script that only a narrator reads from and all the other parts are handed out to the kids in the audience. I supplied the costumes so everyone could be included. I had costumes for shepherds, angels, donkeys, kings, Mary and Joseph. I was worried that not enough kids would come to the Christmas Eve service, but as God would have it, it was a full house.
The kids were so excited to be a part of the telling of the birth of Jesus. Parents were beaming to see their little stars on display. We had kids as young as 16 months old to a teenager of 18. My Pippa was Mary and Maggie was a narrator. My own parents were here to see their grandkids squirm and giggle at the front of the church. No one worried about the staging or having a stray donkey wander off the stage. It was chaos and it was perfect.
I really think all pageants should be this relaxed. It’s not about the costumes, it’s about Christmas and the joy it brings.
Portugal seems to like hosting Christmas villages. They are these sweet little markets everywhere all decked out for the holidays. Lights, crafts, wine…really what could be better?
Everyone talks about the Christmas village in Obidos. It is about an hour away from Lisbon along a mega fast toll highway (€6 one way). The village of Obidos is a walled medieval fairy land. You enter the town through a gate. The inside of the gate house is lined with Portuguese blue tiles. I cannot get used to how much I love these tiles, even though they appear on the outside of my own house and on the inside, I still love seeing them. Projected on the fortress entrance are falling snowflakes. It is truly magical.
Entering the town is free. Lights are strung across the narrow streets. Vendors sell hot chocolate and this unbelievably dreamy drink called ‘ginja,’ which is a delicacy from the region. It is a sour cherry liqueur that they serve in an edible chocolate cup. There are no words. I could have drank a hundred of them, but I wouldn’t have been able to walk my kids around the village…thank you to my daughter who repeatedly reminded me of this fact. This drink from heaven was €1. How people are not stumbling around this town is beyond me.
Christmas music is coming out of every store and kids are in awe of the window displays. Further into town, you are struck by the enormous walls of the inner fortress. Here you must pay €6 per adult and €5 per kid to enter. Inside these walls is a kids paradise. This place would never exist in the US or Canada, because it is poorly lit and the pathways have not been fixed up for centuries. Huge boulders and rocks are everywhere. Dangerous is an understatement, but no one seems to care. My kids didn’t even take notice of the fact that the top walls of the fort (which kids could climb) had drop offs of about 60 feet. North American families would be panicked. Not one parent seemed to even care that their kids were playing near the wall of death…that made all the worrying fall on my capable shoulders. I worried enough for everyone.
The village has a snow hill with sleds, ice skating, small rides, a zip line, Santa and countless booths filled with sweets that left us all on a complete sugar high. One such treat was a giant marshmallow. You could choose from a range of flavors and each marshmallow was covered in chocolate. I forced the girls to give me a bite of each of theirs and I strategically chose a flavor they wouldn’t like…score one for me!
My southern daughters are not used to snow, so the sled ride was a dream come true. I opted out of letting them ice skate. I didn’t want to watch them kill themselves or others. It would have been ugly.
Overall, this is a must see. This gorgeous town on a hill with thick walls of stone and quaint winding streets. Just like a Tuscan hill town…but in Portugal and don’t forget the chocolate cups of wonder!
Maggie’s school just had their Christmas show. To say I had low expectations, would be an understatement. In my experience, Christmas shows are painful. Long, endless productions where you watch your kid and look at your watch.
Maggie was chosen to be Mary. I am not sure if this is because she is the best actress, or because her dad is a priest and they wanted to win favor…either way, she was thrilled.
She practiced relentlessly. She sang non-stop. She was nervous. We crowded into her school auditorium. Standing room only. As we waited for it to begin, I heard countless different languages being spoken around me. I always love that. People from all parts of the world, living in Cascais, Portugal for various reasons, all choosing to send their precious kids to this Christian school.
The play started with kids welcoming the audience in 15 different languages. Kids proudly speaking in their native tongues. Then the narrators took over. One was Greek and the other American. They did a comedy bit where the Greek pretended to not believe in Jesus and the American moved the story along until the Greek believed. Cute.
Maggie shined as Mary. You could see her true goodness radiate from her onstage and she was not alone in her enthusiasm. Her classmates sang and acted their hearts out. I was brought to tears to see teenagers and 6 year olds singing beside each other. They all appeared happy. I saw no embarrassment. I saw no resentment. I saw joy. A delight.
Being around people from all over the world has been so good for my daughter. She is understanding that Christmas is celebrated differently everywhere, but for those who believe the importance of the holiday is universal.