Boas Festas Madeirenses!

Coming from Germany, a country proud of its Christmas tradition, bakery, decoration, markets, concerts, I was used to December being a frenzy: Candlelight, mulled wine, choirs performing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio,… Honestly, I’ve stupidly been thinking German Christmas would be fuller of tradition than some others. I had already spent Christmas abroad in several places and never found anything equally rich. So I didn’t expect many festive vibes to be spread in Madeira.

Now I have to admit: I had been foolishly wrong about that assumption! I was astounded by the many traditions, starting in early November with the step-by-step hanging up of lights. When they had first been lit, I was dazed seeing the city in such a festive gleam. A colleague advised me to wait with taking pictures until everything was lit. “Wait – so that’s not all yet?” His answer was a simple laugh.

As for the cuisine, I discovered Bolo de Mel and loved the chewy texture and its spicy, yet fruity taste. To find out more about it, I looked up a recipe. I was able to decipher most of the ingredients. Except for one, which plays a major role and sounded like an exotic fruit to me: banha. As a vegetarian, I usually miss great parts of local cuisines, but I thought I would be safe on the bakery side… Well, I didn’t touch any honey cake after this and went on experiencing by smell, discovering the acidic smell of Carne de vinho e alhos, mixed with the scent of overly sweetened cocoa at 6 o’clock in the morning at birth masses.

But what I appreciate most about Madeira’s traditions are neither lights, food, nor masses. It’s that they bring people together more than any other End-of-the-Year festivities I have encountered so far. Joining for preparing and sharing food, looking at the presépios in the neighbourhood and singing together in the early mornings. The Christmas I experienced here is – despite the splendid weather– the richest one, because of all the people living it. So my apologies for underestimating it e muito obrigada por me fazerem descobrir as Boas Festas na Madeira!

Ina Engelhardt
Students’ Union German Volunteer

Project financed by ERASMUS+.