Especially in the inland of Center of Portugal, there is the enduring tradition of piling up wood in front of cathedrals and churches and to lit the “madeiros”, the bonfires or Yule-Logs. A way of bringing communities closer, as well as a symbol of the spirit of solidarity and brotherhood so typical of this holiday season.
This ritual is essentially a community celebration, being an occasion when the private habit of gathering together around the fire is brought outside the home helping to consolidate the cohesiveness of the local group. A huge bonfire is made in the churchyard, or in another similar space where the local population can meet after the Missa do Galo. The bonfire can sometimes be as high as the church and is left to burn all night long until it finally goes out. What remains is then stored away and used throughout the winter.
In some villages in the district of Castelo Branco, this ritual has developed a number of specific features that have been maintained over the years. Here, the task of gathering the logs is entrusted to the young unmarried men and those who have been called up for military service. In recent times, married men have also begun to help in gathering the wood, due to the changes in everyday habits and the decrease in population as a result of the colonial wars and emigration.
The wood is cut and transported either on Christmas Eve or on the preceding Sunday. In the village, the local population waits for the group´s arrival, which is announced by the church bells, transforming this event into a moment of great celebration, frequently accompanied by music and singing. At midnight, the bonfire is lit to coincide with the beginning of the mass.
The Yule-Log of Penamacor, 45 km away from the city of Castelo Branco, is particularly striking. A wonderful celebration of the Christmas magic and the sense of community!