Christmas is a special time in Madeira island, where traditions, climate, gastronomy, and events come together to create a unique and enchanting atmosphere. If you want to discover what to do in Madeira during Christmas, here are 10 suggestions you won’t want to miss.
1. Enjoy the Market Nights
The Market Nights are popular festivities that take place around the local markets of each municipality, where typical seasonal products such as flowers, exotic fruits, sweets, and liqueurs are sold. The most famous one is the Market Night of Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal, held on the night of December 23rd. On this night, the streets around the market are close to traffic and fill with people who take the opportunity to do last-minute Christmas shopping, listen to live music, dance, and socialize.
2. Participate in the “Missas do Parto”
The “Missas do Parto” anticipate the birth of Jesus and consist of nine religious masses held between December 16th and 24th, at the break of dawn, usually between 5 and 7 in the morning. Traditional chants and a festive atmosphere accompany the masses in the churchyards, where the faithful and visitors are offered food and drinks. You can attend the “Missas do Parto” in any church on the island, but we recommend the ones at Sé Catedral, Igreja do Monte and Igreja de São Martinho.
3. Admire the Christmas lights and decorations
The city of Funchal transforms into a scene of light and colour during Christmas, with thousands of lights illuminating the streets, buildings, gardens, and mountains. Also, you can stroll through Funchal Marina, Municipal Garden, and Avenida Arriaga, and enjoy the different themes and motifs related to the season. Don’t miss the video mapping show that tells the story of Christmas in Madeira.
4. Visit the nativity scenes
Nativity scenes are an ancient tradition cherished by the Madeiran people, displayed in their homes, churches, and public spaces. There are two types of nativity scenes: “em escadinha” or “em rochinha“. The latter imitates a landscape of the island, with mountains, valleys, fajãs (flat lands near the coast), and a cave, where nativity figures, houses, churches, and fruits are arranged. You can find nativity scenes all over the island, but we recommend those at the Mercado dos Lavradores, Jardim Botânico, and Jardim Municipal.
7. Taste the Christmas gastronomy
Gastronomy is an essential part of Christmas in Madeira, where one can savour traditional dishes and sweets that delight everyone. On December 24th, it is customary to eat codfish with boiled potatoes with red wine. On December 25th, the main dish is “carne de vinho e alhos” (wine and garlic marinated meat), accompanied by “bolo do caco” (a type of bread) and “espetada” (beef skewers) on a bay leaf stick. The most typical sweets are “bolo de mel” (honey cake), “Broas de mel-de-cana” (sugar cane honey cookies), “sonhos” (dreams), and “filhoses” (fried dough). To drink, you mustn’t miss the “poncha” (a traditional drink made with rum, honey, and lemon), “licor de ginja” (sour cherry liqueur), and Madeira wine.
6. Watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks
New Year’s Eve in Madeira is an unforgettable spectacle that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. The fireworks, which last for about 10 minutes, are launched from various points in Funchal’s Bay, creating a breathtaking scenario of light, sound, and colour. Also, you can watch the fireworks from several locations, such as the city’s pier, viewpoints, hotels, or boats.
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8. Go on a “levada” walk or nature hike
Madeira is an ideal destination for nature lovers, who can explore its beauty and diversity through the famous “levadas” or nature hikes. “Levadas” are irrigation channels that crisscross the island, providing access to hard-to-reach places and offering stunning landscapes. There are “levadas” for all preferences and difficulty levels, but we recommend the Levada do Rei in Santana and Levada das 25 Fontes in Rabaçal. Nature hikes are also a great way to get to know the island, with the option to choose more urban or rural routes.
9. Trying Surfing on the Island’s Waves
If you enjoy the adrenaline and challenging the ocean waves, Madeira is the ideal destination for you. The island offers excellent conditions for surfing, with waves suitable for all skill levels and a mild water temperature throughout the year. Also, you can find surf spots all over the island, but the most famous ones are Jardim do Mar, Paul do Mar, and Ponta Pequena on the southern coast, and Porto da Cruz and São Vicente on the northern coast. If you don’t have experience or equipment, you can rely on the surf schools and shops available on the island.
10. Observing Cetaceans in Subtropical Waters
Madeira is one of the best places in the world to observe cetaceans, such as dolphins, whales, and turtles. These animals can be spotted year-round in the subtropical waters surrounding the island, but in winter, there is a higher chance of encountering a variety of species. You can take a boat or catamaran tour and have the opportunity to see these magnificent beings in their natural habitat. Additionally, you can learn more about their biology and behaviour from specialized guides who accompany the outings.
10. Visiting the Festas de Santo Amaro
To conclude the Christmas season, the Festas de Santo Amaro takes place throughout the island of Madeira on January 15th. These festivities are an occasion for families to share a final festive meal and dismantle the Christmas decorations. Christmas delicacies are present on every table, such as honey cake, honey cookies, and wine and garlic marinated meat. The celebrations also have a religious component, with masses and processions in honour of the patron saint of farmers.
Madeira Island Christmas: Conclusion
In conclusion, Christmas in Madeira offers a magical and unforgettable experience. Local traditions, stunning Christmas lights, nativity scenes, Dawn Masses, and Market Nights immerse visitors in the Madeiran culture. The delectable cuisine delights the taste buds, while the spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks light up the sky. The island’s lush nature invites relaxation through levada walks and beach visits or adventure with surfing. Overall, Madeira is a truly enchanting and diverse Christmas destination.
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