French toast, anyone? Try instead the Portuguese toast, that is, the rabanada. It’s basically the same, but with a big plus: deeped in a delicious, non-alcoholic, sweet Port wine sauce. It is, if you like, the dessert version of the Holy communion bread and wine. King cake? If you’re familiar with Mardi Gras gastronomical tradition, you’ve certainly tried it in Louisiana. Now go for the upgraded Portuguese version, the bolo rei (the translation is literal), a soft pastry filled with nuts, raisins, and topped with crystallized fruits, reminiscent of a king’s crown and a reference to the Three Wise Men. Christmas turkey? Sure, we also have it at this time of the year. Yet, there’s no genuine Portuguese Christmas Eve dinner without codfish, the national dish. Slowly boiled, of course, paired with cabbages, eggs and potatoes, all boiled too, sprinkled with finely chopped garlic and drizzled with virgin olive oil. Let’s not forget the Lord’s first disciples were fishermen.

Christmas in Portugal is all about intimate family reunions and strong food traditions. It’s all very specific, a mix of Mediterranean and Southwestern European warmth. There’s certainly a joyous open social side to it, of course. Major cities have fantastic Christmas markets – in fact, we have a whole town, Óbidos, a medieval gemm, that turns into a Christmas market on every corner, to visit it is mandatory, you can’t miss it. All over the country, street decorations delight children and adults alike. But, as the 24th of December hits the calendar, shops close earlier and families come together. In Portugal, the opening of presents takes place at midnight, not on the morning of the 25th. Keep in mind that if anyone is going to guarantee this, it’s certainly the youngsters!

So: Christmas codfish, rabanadas, King cake, and much more. Make it happen, either a few days before the 24th or for lunch on this day. Head on to Porto, itself a perfect Christmas city, and knock on a private chef’s door. He’ll cook up an exclusive Christmas feast for you, with traditional recipes made with fresh, seasonal produce, telling you the stories behind the cuisine.

Perhaps you’ve arrived in Porto from the south – and on the way you’ve already visited the incredible Óbidos, or even the very art nouveau Aveiro, paradise of traditional Portuguese egg sweets, irresistible at this time of year (and capital of codfish!). If you’ve done all this on your trip, you’ve probably by now treated your kids to an incredible Christmas present: a treasure hunt in Lisbon. It’s an extraordinary way to discover the city during the excitement of the season, getting to know the most popular characters in its history, the symbols, the delicacies, legends and myths and all the little details that even go unnoticed for some locals.

Well then, come along and let yourself be seduced by this Portuguese Christmas carol. You will find that the saying “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” will take on a whole new meaning. (By the way: forget about the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Lisbon always displays a bigger one on its main square, and it’s an artistic conception on a man-made structure. Yup, we prefer to keep our trees alive in our forests.)