Traditions of a Portuguese New Year: It all comes down to your underwear | Catavino
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Jose Pizzaro

Traditions of a Portuguese New Year: It all comes down to your underwear

My first New Years in Portugal was spent in Lisbon, gazing out across the city to the Tejo river, where the yearly fireworks would flare up and burst in a spectacular display of color. Underneath the technicolor display, a cacophony of banging pots and pans alongside honking car horns rang in o Ano Novo. It was a gorgeous night filled with tradition, community and superstition.

Much like the Spanish and their grapes, one of the most iconic Portuguese traditions is to eat twelve raisins paired with sparkling wine. Some say it’s a raisin for each stroke of the clock at midnight, while others claim it’s for each month of the year. Whatever your belief, make sure you consciously make-a-wish as you devour each and every of the twelve grapes!

Popular in the southern part of Portugal, banging pots and pans together is to ward off evil and negative energy in during the New Year. Fireworks are another tradition found throughout the country to keep evil away and for purification. The most spectacular fogo de artificio can be found  on the island of Madeira where one can see the largest display of fireworks in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.


While fireworks, noise making and sparkling wines are all fairly common throughout the world, one that isn’t as common has to do with which undergarments you’re wearing as that clock hits midnight!

It’s said that while the underwear must be new, it’s the different colors that will set the tone for the wearer throughout the year. Some say blue is the color to wear, while others claim it’s red, each with their own meaning; blue for good luck and better communications with others; red for success in love. While those are great for some, for those that don’t need the extra help in those departments, then they can always look to other colors: brown is to improve one’s professional career, yellow for financial help, white for peace or non-material matters, and green for good health.

Some other ways to celebrate a Portuguese New Year:

  • Take a cold dive in the ocean on the first of January.
  • Kiss a loved one at the stroke of twelve.
  • Have money in hand at midnight to bring money throughout the year.
  • Throw money towards the inside of the house.
  • Turn on all the lights, open all the doors, and go outside. Step back inside using your right foot first.
  • Jump on one leg three times with a glass of champagne in your hand at midnight.
  • Dancing around a tree promises prosperity.
  • Don’t eat poultry for your last meal of the old year to avoid “happiness from flying away”.
  • Do eat chocolate to “attract riches” as well as bolo rei, leitão, caldo verde and broa (corn bread), or bacalhau as these are traditional for this time of year.

Here’s a broa recipe to help ring in the New Year!

Have a happy and safe Ano Novo!

Broa (Portuguese corn bread)
Recipe type: Portuguese
Cuisine: Bread
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Fantastic recipe to ring in the New Year!
  • 2 packages of active dry yeast
  • 2 cups sifted stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm water (105F to 115F)
  • 1 cup scalded milk, cooled to lukewarm (105F to 115F)
  • 2 Tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 5 ½ to 6 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
  1. First make a sponge: In a large bowl, combine the yeast and ⅔ cup of the corn meal, pressing out any lumps. Blend in ½ cup of the lukewarm water, beating until smooth. Set in a warm, draft-free spot, cover with a cloth, and allow to rise until light, spongy and doubled in bulk—30 to 40 minutes. There will most likely be a distinct alcohol smell; this is ok and contributes to the flavor.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 cup lukewarm water, the milk, corn oil, and salt. As soon as the sponge is light and bubbly, stir it down, blend in the milk mixture and the remaining 1⅓ cups corn meal. Now add enough of the flour, 1 cup at a time to make a soft but manageable dough. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead hard for 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball, place it in an oiled bowl, and turn the dough in the bowl so that is oiled all over. Cover with a cloth, set in a warm, draft-free spot, and allow to rise until doubled in size– about 1 hour.
  3. Once doubled in size, repeat and allow to rise for another hour.
  4. Once again punch the dough down, turn out onto a well-floured board, and knead hard for 5 minutes. Divide the dough in half; knead each half hard for 2 to 3 minutes, then shape into balls. Place each loaf in a lightly greased 8 or 9 inch layer cake pan and sift a little cornmeal on top. Cover with a cloth, set in a warm, draft free spot, and let rise until doubled in bulk – about 45 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, improvise a brick-and-steam oven by placing three or four unglazed bricks in a large, heavy, shallow baking pan and set it on the lowest shelf of the oven. Place the rack on which you intend to bake the bread on the center shelf. Preheat the oven to 500F for a full 20 minutes.
  6. When ready to bake, fill a metal watering can with ice water and drizzle the water directly over the hot bricks. Place the loaves on the center rack so they don't touch each other or the oven walls. Close the door and bake the bread 15 minutes, drizzling water over the hot bricks every 5 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 400F and bake 15 minutes longer, again drizzling water over the bricks every 5 minutes. As soon as the bread is browned, firm and hallow sounding when tapped remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.