In Madeira Islands the Christian traditions during Christmas and New Year season are deeply rooted in the soul of the locals.
During the course of December until the Three Kings day, held on January 5th, this festive season is lived with a special feeling, combining religious ceremonies with the joy for the arrival of a new year, a time of year marked with a rich programme filled with cultural, ethnographic and artistic events.

The "Lapinha"
One of the best representations of the birth of the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem is depicted in the "lapinha", designation given to the nativity crib from Madeira Islands.
The Madeiran crib is a reproduction of the islands landscape with a fantasious interpretation - depicting cottages, shepherds, sheep, music bands, pig slaughtering, processions, popular festivals, churches, daily life sceneries; seasonal fruit, the greenery of the fields, sprigs, the songs and rituals, the honey cakes, honey biscuits, custard apple and avocados in a genuine manifestation of the cheer joy which is associated with the word CHRISTMAS. The Nativity is characterised by a grotto or cave surrounded by hillocks, hilltops, valleys and waterfalls, integrated in a scattered group of houses where paths and lanes guide the statuettes of the Three Wise Men, shepherds and sheep who converge in direction of the Baby Jesus resting on his cradle next to the manger, a scene which condenses the spirit of devotion of the Christmas season.
Several local products are used in the decoration of these cribs, namely fruits, green-briers, deer's foot fern and various species of moss and lichens, besides Sprigs in little vases which decorate other parts of the cribs, all with the purpose of accepting the Baby Jesus blessing for the plentiful harvests. These sprigs can be from wheat, maize, lentils, beans, peas and lupins, depending on the village, but the ones commonly are made from wheat and maize.
The Madeiran crib, designated as "escadinha" or staircase is put up a few days before Christmas day and is built on a wooden staircase that is decorated with sprigs of rye or wheat, statuettes of donkeys, sheep and kid goats, "brindeiros" (small bread rolls), seasonal fruits (sweet apples, tamarillos and tangerines) and an oil lamp.
The "escadinha" staircase reproduces the altar where the Baby Jesus is enthroned, placed on the last stall and crowned by a floral arch, a kind of canopy made of green-briers and flowers. This tradition may have been introduced by the first settlers from the Algarve. This curious tradition is commonly used in the Algarve and in the Azores and is still kept till now days in Brazil. Alongside with the tradition of the making of cribs, it is also customary to decorate Christmas trees. Christmas trees are decorated according to personal style, with fairy lights, balls and candles in various colours, tinsel or bows and topped with a star that alludes to the star that guided the Three Kings to Bethlehem.

"Childbirth Masses"
Christmas begins with the "Missas do Parto" (childbirth masses) starting December 16th and ending on Christmas Eve, with the midnight mass. The "Missas do Parto" - the novenas - are nine in total and are celebrate early in the morning. After the mass, believers gather in the churchyard to hear the chanting, accompanied by groups of strings, accordions and castanets, with no shortage of the "despiques", which are followed by the snack with spirits, liqueurs and cakes.
In some parishes of Madeira such as Câmara de Lobos and Camacha, the tradition of philharmonic bands is maintained, accompanied by other instruments, such as castanets, bass drums, braguinhas or accordions, of going door to door, in a joyful symphony, to awaken its locals and rush them to this typical ritual of our land.

Night at the Market
On December 23rd, Madeirans take this opportunity to make their last minute Christmas shopping in a commotion, that intensifies the essence of the "Festa", a designation commonly attributed by locals to refer to the beginning of the Christmas season.
The locals go to the Mercado dos Lavradores (Farmers' Market) to buy the last items or delicacies in order to ultimate their Christmas decorations and prepare the typical delicacies of the season.
The market hall thereby becomes small venue taking into consideration such big demand. The surrounding streets are closed to traffic and are filled with various food stalls that are open all night, selling innumerable regional products like flowers, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, sweets, pork in wine and garlic rolls and typical drinks like "poncha".
At nightfall the biggest attraction of the day takes place, a performance by traditional Christmas carollers, on which locals take the role of true artists. This occasion gathers music and folk bands who contribute to maintain the jubilant atmosphere apart from, lots of entertainment that lasts until dawn.

Singing the Kings
Once the New Year Festivities come to an end, the festivities and entertainments extend to the middle of January. During this time masses are celebrated in praise of the Baby Jesus and the nativity is kept in many Madeira houses.
On the 6th of January the arrival of the Three Kings is celebrated, which occasion is commemorated with the famous "Bolo Rei" (King's Cake) which encloses a bean and a surprise gift. Tradition says that whoever is lucky enough to end up with the slice with the bean will have to buy the cake the following year while whoever ends up with the surprise gift will have to buy the drinks.
On the night from January 5th to the 6th is customary to sing "Kings' carols", a tradition kept all around the islands, in which people go to their neighbours houses to sing in small groups, accompanied by musicians playing regional instruments , such as the "viola de arame" (string guitar), the "braguinha" (ukekele), the "rajão" (a five or six-stringed instrument) and triangles, in addition to the women who bring food supplies for the night (wine, fresh bread, sweets, etc.).
Once the band has arrived at the house where they will sing the "Kings' carols", an improvised musical competition starts between those who remain outdoors and those who are still indoors, until the time the door is opened. Now days there are multiple styles to sing the traditional "Kings carols", there are those who sing traditional carols and those who rather improvise paying tribute to the Three Wise Men.
In Madeira Islands the tradition of the "Kings' Carols" is believed to have its origins in the "Janeiras" (Kings' carols) which were sung on the mainland Portugal and were later introduced in Madeira by early settlers.

It is in the parish of São Martinho, in Funchal, where the tradition of "singing the Kings" is still preserved with great enthusiasm. This ritual begins with the gathering of the "singers" in the churchyard, who them visit the neighbouring households.


You will know that today is the day,
Oh That our Lord was born,
In a manger in Bethlehem, Oh
To be our Redeemer

To be our Redeemer, Oh.
In the heavens proclaimed.
In Bethlehem behold, Oh.
Lying in the hay, Oh.

Lying in the hay, Oh.
To reject all riches,
He being the King of Kings, Oh.
Lord of all grandeur

To adore the Baby, Oh
The three Kings, with joy
Kneeling to the ground, Oh.
At the feet of the Virgin Mary

At the feet of the Virgin Mary, Oh.
Guided by a light
Now we end our song, Oh
Be with us, Jesus.

Now, with a happier tune, they try to wake the household members:

The praises of the Kings:

Arise, Lady,
If you wish to hear;
Come and hear the praises
Of the three holy Kings

Remember, Lady
From that window
Oh blessed fruit...
You're full of grace

You are fragrant jasmine
Planted in the brook.
You're a white lily
Beautiful olive tree

Beautiful olive tree,
You're the celestial light;
Imperial corner,
Where the sun gets dressed.

So the door will open, they sing an Ave Maria to the Mother of God.

The Ave Maria:

Oh sovereign virgin,
You are the light of day.
The angels proclaim you,
With the Ave Maria

You are a blessed rose,
Precious thorn,
A living sacrarium,
Full of grace

Oh! What a Beautiful Mother we have!
The star of the North,
Now and in the hour
Of our death

Oh! What a Magnificent Mother we have!
The virgin of light.
Oh! All together we say:
Amen, Jesus.

As the household members are still asleep, the carollers start to sing until they're awake.

Ballads for the challenge:

The tiny stars
Make up the sky.
Neighbours please forgive,
If the Kings are not to their liking.

To arrive here today,
Many steps were taken.
Neighbours please forgive
Us coming uninvited.

I come to sing the Kings,
From the other side of Nazareth.
Oh neighbour, open the door,
If you want to find out who it is.

To come here today
I only decided, late yesterday
Oh neighbour, open the door,
I have with me a hen.

The family is up and prepares to open the door.

The final plea:

The sickle that cuts the grass,
E, la, la, la, ri, la, la, la.
It also cuts the weeds
Oh neighbour, open the door,

E, la, la, la, ri, la, la, la.
For the five wounds of Christ!
The wounds of Jesus Christ,
E, la, la, la, ri, la, la, la.

Don't leave us on the ground
Oh neighbour, open the door,
E, la, la, la, ri, la, la, la.
Have compassion on us.

The door opens, but the lights are still turned off. The head of the house greets its visitors who respond with a round of applause:

The door opening:

In this house there is no fire
Let's go get it at Bugio Island.
Thanks always be to God,
That this door has been opened.

In this house there is no fire
Let's go get it at Deserta Island.
Thanks always be to God,
That this door has been opened.

After the lights in the house are turned on, the head of the household invites the visitors to enter.

The entrance:

Long live the carnation. Long live the rose.
Long live the orange tree blossom.
Long live the head of this house
And his companion.

Long live the carnation. Long live the rose.
Long live the four o'clocks.
Long live the head of this house
And all his family.

Long live the carnation. Long live the rose.
Long live the jasmine flower.
Long live the head of this house
Wanting to sleep and finds himself here.

Long live the carnation. Long live the rose.
Long live the forget-me-not
Long live the head of this house
Wanting to sleep and not allowed to.

The visitors greet the entire family. After this, household owners greet them with sweetsand wine, prepared from the Christmas Festivities.

And thus begins the merry-making that will last until the wee hours of the morning.

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