This past December we were invited to our friends' Christmas party at the república, Rápo-Táxo in Coimbra. Rápo-Táxo is one of Portugal's many repúblicas, which are houses for students and alumni from local universities. The closest American equivalent would be fraternities or sororities, but the república is so much more than that. Instead of being elitist and exclusive, most repúblicas go out of their way to be inclusive. This extends not just to students of varying backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs, but to their friends, visitors, and people in need of a meal or a place to stay.
We arrived earlier to watch the preparation of the meal. Slicing, dicing, and cooking happened in the kitchen while the rest of the group sat around talking and occasionally singing. I don't know what the spicy shrimp dish was, but it was one of the best things I've eaten since coming to Portugal. I have a special place in my heart for spicy food - red and green New Mexican chile is something I crave, making it one of my few regular American imports.
The meat was cooked after we all sat down on small metal table top grills lit from fire below. Wine was passed around and cups of Super Bock, which probably no party in Portugal goes without. People got quiet for awhile as everyone concentrated on eating. I rarely say this, but I was so stuffed by the end I didn't even end up having dessert.
I discovered that the tradition we know of in America as "Secret Santa" is alive in well in at least some parts of Portugal. The people of Rápo-Táxo hold one every year, only here it's called "Amigo Secreto" and you don't pick someone's name in advance. Instead you try to buy a gift that would be appropriate for anyone...or not, because that's fun, too. All the gifts were numbered, people picked numbers out of a hat, and got matched up from there. This Amigo Secreto was also completely anonymous and people didn't shout out, "That's mine!" when someone got their gift. It was really amazing to be a part of this old tradition that hopefully will continue on long after any of us are here. Thanks Rápo!