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Friday briefing: Christmas is coming (but not for everyone)



TALK OF THE TOWN

IN A FESTIVE MOOD | 41 artists took part in a video-tribute to mark the 50th anniversary of singer-songwriter Sérgio Godinho’s career (above). In the video, they sing Godinho's classic “O Primeiro Dia”, a song about taking each day as a new beginning.

One of Portugal’s most influential living musicians, Godinho started his career singing protest songs against the dictatorship. He is still keeping busy: in December, he will release a greatest hits album and a new novel; in January 2024, he will perform at the Maria Matos Theatre in Lisbon; and, in March, he'll perform the show “Liberdade 25” in Porto and Lisbon.


EMPTY STOCKINGS | Roughly 42% of the Portuguese population would have been at risk of poverty in 2022 without pensions or social transfers, the National Statistics Institute revealed this week. The data showed that, after state transfers, 17% of the population was still at risk of poverty, which is below the EU average. This means that more than 1.8 million people in Portugal live on less than €591 net per month.


ON THE WISH LIST | 75% of the Portuguese say that the country is worse off than a year ago, a survey by CESOP - Catholic University of Portugal found out. Healthcare is considered the main problem facing Portugal (18%) and immigration (3%) is mentioned for the first time (see the full list here).


The survey, which drew some 1102 valid responses, showed that both the centre-left Socialist Party (PS) and the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) have lost voters. Far-right CHEGA is set for big gains in the March 2024 elections, attracting 16% of the respondents in the poll - 9 p.p. more than in the last elections.


TIS’ THE GIFTING SEASON | With a snap election coming up, the 2024 Budget was approved, bringing a bag full of seasonal goodies: lower income tax rates for all; higher salaries for public workers; an increase in pensions and social benefits; a 24% jump in public investment, including a major boost for public housing; tax deductions for workers under 26; and tuition fee refunds for graduates who stay in Portugal. This is PM António Costa’s last budget and he could hardly hold back his tears after receiving a standing ovation from the Socialist bench (see the moment here).

Meanwhile, the leader of the centre-right PSD committed to pay back teachers’ “frozen” salaries and to give pensioners a minimum income of €820 until 2028. However, only a day later, the party clarified that this proposal only concerns pensioners covered by an anti-poverty subsidy.


RED, GOLDEN AND GREEN | Social media burned the Government’s new visual identity, which strips the Portuguese flag to the bare essentials (see the old and new logo here). The Government said the new logo, which does away with the historical and religious references of the flag, seeks to portray a more inclusive image of the country.

The conservative right derided it as a surrender to "wokism" and a “criminal" act. Other criticized the €74,000 price tag of the “childlike” redesign as a waste of public funds.


IN FOCUS: 5 DESSERTS YOU’LL FIND ON PORTUGUESE TABLES THIS CHRISTMAS

From the indulgent to the downright sinful, Portuguese Christmas desserts are full of symbology (besides sugar, eggs and cinnamon). Each region has its delicacies but these five are sure to make it to the table these holidays.


Legend has it that the Bolo Rei (“King cake”) came about in honor of the three Wise Men bearing gifts for baby Jesus. The caramel exterior symbolizes gold, the dried and candied fruits myrrh and the aroma of the cake evokes the smell of incense. Tradition dictates that whoever finds a fava bean, or a trinket inside must pay for the cake next year (recipe).


A favorite for kids of all ages, Aletria is steeped in Portuguese history. Its name is said to stem from the Arabic word al-itriâ, which simply refers to the thin pasta threads (vermicelli), which were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors in the 8th or 9th century. It is sprinkled with cinnamon, usually in a crisscross pattern (recipe).


The Portuguese take on the French toast, Rabanadas, also known as “golden slices”, are slices of bread soaked in milk, coated with egg, fried to golden perfection, and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. These indulgent treats are often enjoyed with a dusting of powdered sugar, a glass of Port wine or a drizzle of honey (recipe).


Sonhos (“Dreams”) are deep fried dough balls that are crispy on the outside and airy on the inside. Traditionally, the dough was pre-prepared and left to rise before Midnight Mass, fried afterwards and then served with Port. They are made with flour, yeast, eggs and sometimes contain orange zest and pumpkin and covered with cinnamon and sugar (recipe).

One of the most beloved Christmas desserts, Arroz Doce (“Sweet Rice”) never fails to spark debates on the table concerning recipes and ideal consistencies, with some preferring a thicker texture and others a creamier one. No matter what, granma’s recipe is always the best. Similar to aletria, it is a creamy, sweet pudding that is served semi-set with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon (recipe).


TIP OF THE WEEK

In collaboration with Unique Portugal

Downtown Porto pulls no punches on Christmas. In addition to the traditional giant Christmas tree, there will also be an ice rink, a Parisian carousel and a Christmas market. At least 91 streets will be lit up for the season and there will be free concerts until Christmas eve. If you haven’t visited since its reopening last year, this is the perfect time to try out the stalls at iconic Bolhão Market.


COMING UP

THE END IS NIGH | The President confirmed on Tuesday that he intends to officially dismiss the Government “in the first days of December”. Under the Portuguese Constitution, once the Government has been officially dismissed, it will be limited to acts “strictly necessary to ensure the management of public affairs”. Early general elections will be held on 10 March 2024.


NEW AIRPORT NEWS | The independent technical report on the location of Lisbon's new airport will be presented on Tuesday, December 5. There are 9 options on the table, some of them dual, including Alcochete, Santarém, Vendas Novas, Rio Frio, Poceirão and Montijo (see a map here). If it goes ahead, the new airport will be the biggest public project since the Vasco de Gama Bridge.

But the process will still be far from over. With or without agreement on the reports’ conclusion, the current Humberto Delgado Airport looks set to remain operational for years to come.


THE CIRCUS IS COMING TO TOWN | Once again, the Passeio Marítimo de Algés hosts the Christmas edition of the majestic Victor Hugo Cardinali Circus. There will be no shortage of magical aerialists, motorbike riders, horses, camels and much more.

The guest artists come from all over the world and promise to make magic that will enchant kids and adults alike. The circus will be open until Sunday, 7 January and tickets range from €15 to €40 (available here).


IN OTHER NEWS

  • Life expectancy rose to 84,75 years, meaning that the legal retirement age in 2025 will also increase to 66 years and seven months.

  • The unemployment rate rose to 6.7% in October, the highest since March 2023.

  • Inflation fell to 1.6 per cent in November, the lowest level in two years.

  • New HIV cases in Portugal have fallen by 56% in the last decade, with 804 new cases in 2022.

  • Former manager André Villas-Boas announced on Thursday that he will formalise his candidature for FC Porto President in January 2024.

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