LisbonWhen it comes to Christmas celebrations, few folks greet the occasion like the Portuguese. Even without snow or the Christmas glamour associated with the Rockefeller Center, Lisbon is a vibrant city that has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas.

As early as November, the streets of Lisbon take a magical turn and start to buzz with traditional Christmas music and excitement. Further heightening the atmosphere are the aromas from roasting chestnuts and other Holiday goodies. Lisbon, quite surprisingly, is not on everyone’s list of Christmas destinations. Hence, people who are seeking an alternative to usual hustle and bustle of New York or Vienna can look to Portugal. A Christmas in Portugal is a celebration and appreciation of life.

Unlike other Christmas scenes in Europe and around the world, a Portuguese Christmas is still rooted steeped with religious belief. Even while folks are busy shopping and handing out gifts to people they care about, majority of the population still take time to hear mass (misa de gallo), prepare a traditional Portuguese Christmas supper, put up a Nativity scene and commemorate the departed.

The Portuguese love for the season becomes even more evident with Lisbon’s spellbinding display of Christmas Lights. Each year, the city is engulfed with lights. Shops, homes and even historical places or government offices are decked with blinking neon lights. These light decorations are usually a blend of traditional and modern styles, thus reflecting the city’s rich history.

A recent addition to the city’s Christmas tradition is the annual lighting of a giant artificial tree. Like other classic Christmas trees, the Lisbon Tree signifies life in the dead of winter and heralds the coming of a new dawn. The tree gets decorated annually with over a million miniature lights. Its height allows it to be visible from anywhere in the city and is a most welcoming site for tourists.

The tradition was begun in 2004 and the artificial tree was erected in the middle of Lisbon’s Comercio Square. In 2005, it received the honor of being the tallest/highest tree in Europe with the height of about 76 meters. In 2007, the tree was moved to Portugal’s second largest city, Porto and was returned to Lisbon the following year. Despite losing its “tallest tree” title, the Lisbon tree with its dazzling lights continues to attract sightseers and photographers worldwide.

It is heart warming to realize that the magic and wonder that Christmas can evoke are still alive and can overcome religious and political beliefs. Thanks to marvels such as the Lisbon Christmas Tree, we learn to take stock and appreciate values, traditions and people who are dear to us.