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As Christmas approaches in Portugal, families decorate pine trees with stars, tiny ball ornaments, knots, and bright electric lights. They prepare for the arrival of Padre Nicholas and the Three Kings, all of whom are generous gift-givers according to various le- gends. Home decorations add to the festive atmosphere, and include holly, paper ribbons, dried flowers and ele- gant candles.
Food plays a major part in Portuguese Christmas tradition. The favorite entree is boiled codfish, imported from Norway, for Christmas supper, as well as roasted'turkey for Christmas lunch on December 25. Portuguese Christmas candies include sweet vermicelli, or King Cake, in which one piece always has a dry bean. The person who gets a bean in his or her slice of cake must buy another cake for New Year's Eve. The Portuguese also enjoy a special feast just after midnight on Christmas. It is called consoada, and it involves setting extra places at the table for alminhas a penar, or "the souls of the dead". Another custom is to leave crumbs on the hearth for these souls to scoop up, in exchange for a bountiful harvest to come.
Also traditional for Portuguese Christmas is the Yule Log, or fogueira da consoada, which is burned either in the home hearth or in the church yard. The ashes of this log are kept and burned along with pinecones later in the year, during the thunderstorm season. Legend has it that where the smoke of that fire rises, no thunderbolts will strike.
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