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An Enchanting Christmas on The Island of Madeira

Updated on December 9, 2021
Gabriel Wilson profile image

Gabriel lives with her family on the Island of Madeira, where a warm climate provides the perfect environment to enjoy the outdoor life.

A Nativity Scene in The Centre of Funchal

Pictures of Funchal, Madeira at Christmas
Pictures of Funchal, Madeira at Christmas | Source

Christmas Traditions

Nativity scences are a huge part of celebrating Christmas on the Portuguese Island of Madeira. Great efforts, beginning weeks before the month of December - are carefully built to create amazing life-size nativity scences.

Each village will have a nativity scene centered around the heart of the community, The Church. Every family will build a lavish nativity scene in their home complete with little houses, real living moss, farm animals and human figurines. The nativity scenes will often incoorperate impressive water features: streams, wells, ponds with running water and meandering tracks made from sand or tiny pebbles picked from the beach. Snow capped mountain peaks and delicate little trees with areas of live foliage gathered from the mountains is very typical. It is usual that the older generation in each household whom build the scene - sometimes taking days to perfect the display.

Funchal the capital city boosts the King and Queen of all nativity scenes. The life size characters are so real, you'd almost expect them to speak. The images are imposing and demand attention: The three wise men and their camels, The little donkey. The heavenly angel. Mary, Joseph and of course the baby Jesus. The figurines are beautifully made and great care and precision are taken in arranging all the numerous details. The nativity scene is traditionally built using real materials and live moss, plants, small trees and flowers. A big effort is made in producing the nativity set. The deliverance is amazingly lifelike and rather awe-inspiring. It is rather difficult not to feel moved and be very much involved in The Spirit of Christmas.

Each year the scene is displayed in a different layout in a different location of the city. Lavish arrangements of fresh flowers adorn the display, real cloth is used to dress the figurines and fresh straw lines the manger.

In another part of the city another scence can be found: a village with tiny houses, amazingly life like complete with little chimneys, a village church, village figuerines and farming animals, a running stream, a village well, a windmill, forestry, and manicured lawns. The mountainous landscape is typical of Madeira. The craftsmanship is to be applauded.

The festive season is alive and thriving with the true meaning of The Christmas Spirit all around the island. There is an imminent air of expectation. It is truly joyful to participate and embrace the sheer scale of what Christmas means to the Madeiran people and how much they want to share it.

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Life Size Camels Life Size Figurines Life Size Donkey
Life Size Camels
Life Size Camels | Source
Life Size Figurines
Life Size Figurines | Source
Life Size Donkey
Life Size Donkey | Source

A Mountain Village Nativity Scence

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Christmas Cabins Sell Traditional Wares

Dotted around the main streets of the city of Funchal you will be delighted to find intriguing log cabins selling their homemade wares to the eager Christmas shoppers. The timber roofs are covered in leafy branches creating a lush forest feeling. The traders are all dressed up in the old traditional style of Madeiran clothing.

The cobbled streets are a-buzz with the wonder of Christmas. Beautiful flowers typical of the festive season create colourful displays of blues, yellows, pinks and reds. Green fern and deep red poinsettias fill hanging baskets, adorn flower pots and line the pavements. The festivities are well on their way and the city is throughly blooming.

A selection of Madeira wines, cherry liquors and the traditional winter warmer - 'poncha' (a mix of sugar cane rum, fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice, and honey) are among the many tipples on offer. The sweet aromas of fresh bread, hot suggared donuts, bolo de mel (a sweet dark cake topped with nuts) fill the air. Cauldrons of simmering pork typicaly cooked in white wine and garlic (served in fresh rolls) waft through the streets. Swirling grey smoke signals delicious hot roasted chestnuts. The city is an explosion of sensory smells.

One cabin nestled among the stalls has an impressive selection of madeiran boots, the boots are handmade. Next door another cabin sells woolly hats with ear covers, idela for mountain walking. Both are still worn today by the mountain folk in the colder winter months.

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Flower HutBoozy HutPoncha HutTraditional Shoes
Flower Hut
Flower Hut | Source
Boozy Hut
Boozy Hut | Source
Poncha Hut
Poncha Hut | Source
Traditional Shoes
Traditional Shoes | Source
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Pretty PoinsettiasChristmas FlowersReindeersA Huge SantaSnowmenFun Train
Pretty Poinsettias
Pretty Poinsettias | Source
Christmas Flowers
Christmas Flowers | Source
Reindeers | Source
A Huge Santa
A Huge Santa | Source
Snowmen | Source
Fun Train
Fun Train | Source

The 24-Hour Christmas Market

A meander along the cobbled streets will introduce you to numerous flower, fruit and vegetable vendors. Their wonderful stalls brimming with fresh produce, perfect for Christmas day. The local vendors are full of the Christmas spirit and relish in the market festivity. Christmas wishes are expressed with warm smiles and friendly greetings.

The twenty-four hour market begins on the morning of the 23rd of December and continues in a bustle of excitement through the night. This fabulous fun event takes place every year and is a wonderful experience to share with loved ones. Strolling through the colourful streets, ablaze with Christmas lights and huge glowing baubles is a fabulous experience - a festive fairy tale. The streets are merry with laughter and Christmas cheer is alive and thriving. Musicians play at every street corner. Local carol singers gather in the square to entertain the crowds through the evening hours. People come in their droves to sample tasty foods, sip a drink or two and purchase their fresh fruit and vegetables for Christmas eve and Christmas day. The city is a bubbly of joy.

Snow men of different sizes line the city gardens and the biggest Santa Claus you have ever seen stands by his huge Christmas trunk. Giant colourful wrapped gift boxes surround him. Reindeer's pull a snow sledge full of brightly coloured Santa sacks. Gifts for all the good girls and all the good boys hidden inside, waiting to be delivered for Christmas.

Did I already say Intriguing? Fabulous? Delightful? In case I didn't, I'll say it again - Intriguing! Fabulous! Delightful! Oh! and - Wonderful! Exciting! and Magical!

© 2010 Gabriel Wilson


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