Christmas Eve traditions can vary. For some, it’s dinner and Midnight Mass. For others, it might be an annual holiday marathon starting with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and maybe some Ernest Saves Christmas. Some people won’t even look at (or put out) presents, and others just tear into the whole mess like tomorrow’s never coming.
And then there’s the city of Braga, Portugal, where late into the day on Christmas Eve, thousands gather to the city square—to drink Portuguese Moscatel wine and eat, you guessed it, bananas.
We have reader António Saldanha de Oliveira to thank for turning us onto this truly excellent, and entirely unexpected, custom. The so-called “Bananeiro” actually began just a few decades ago—relatively young for a holiday tradition – and became explosively popular (though, thank goodness, nowhere near SantaCon). From what we can tell, the tradition began when Manuel Rio was trying to find ways to attract more people to his Casa das Bananas, basically a banana warehouse near the center of town. His solution: offer a glass of Portuguese Moscatel wine.
The idea worked, not least because the wine (likely Moscatel de Setubal) is sweet and aromatic; the “young” a bit fresher, floral and lively, while the wood-aged “old” can be rich with darker, nutty, figgy notes—a luxe compliment to a subtly sweet, creamy banana (and who knew, the Madeira region is kinda famous for its bananas). Rio must have been pleased, though we’re wondering how banana sales made up for all the free wine? But what he hadn’t expected was what happened next.
Customers apparently began requesting bananas to settle the stomach and maybe avoid intoxication. So a small tradition was born—going to the Casa das Bananas, drinking some Moscatel, and chasing it with a banana. Or vice versa.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Manuel’s son Jorge Rio began inviting his old school friends to meet him at his father’s place for some Moscatel and bananas. With most folks back in town around Christmastime, the meet-ups tended to coincide with the holiday. And then, well, the tradition exploded.
By now, thousands upon thousands of people come to the Casa das Bananas late in the afternoon every Christmas Eve. In fact so many people come that they’ve had to set up trailers to accommodate the influx of visitors.
No word on whether there is mass banana peel slippage the day after.