• 2023.01.26
  • Don’t go in the water! But, Happy New Year!
If memory serves me, this Christmas was the first one since before the pandemic that we’ve been able to celebrate without any restrictions.
It’s been so long since the whole family—including the older generation—has been able to get together and embrace. Without masks.

As we slowly ease back into normal life, it’s hard to know how to handle greetings.
In Portugal, the custom is to touch the cheeks together on both sides and kiss (some men kiss with the lips on both cheeks). It’s equivalent to a bow in Japan. Of course, this custom disappeared during the pandemic.
When COVID-19 first made its way into Portugal, people thought abandoning the practice felt cold and aloof, insisting that they didn’t care and still wanted to do it—so they’d grab people with a kiss and blow the virus all over them.
When cases started going up, the traditional greeting became increasingly awkward. The government urged people to fist bump instead, which gradually became the norm. Some people even came up with creative and unique ways of high-fiving or fist-bumping.
Back before the reality of what Covid was had set in, the people of Portugal walked around with a huge question mark in their minds about how they were supposed to greet one another.
Someone would call out a hearty “Olá!” in greeting, and then the people would spend the next three seconds trying to figure out their sense of distance and what to do. Kiss? Hug? Fist bump? It required some fast thinking on your feet.
I was sure that the old custom of kissing would actually fade out because of all this—and people would just get by with the handshakes that are common all over the world.

But when Christmas and New Year’s came this winter, everyone seemed to have decided all together to go right back to kissing like they did before the pandemic.

We had grand celebrations for New Year’s again this year.
During the pandemic—perhaps to cheer people up—there were huge fireworks displays all over Portugal on New Year’s Eve, and they kept going strong again this year. Being a typical Japanese who loves fireworks, I consider this one of the great things that the pandemic brought.
As people felt the frustration of the last few years lift, they took to the streets in search of fun, bringing a lively atmosphere to the town.
Still, every restriction wasn’t lifted.
The Portuguese National Maritime Authority did issue a New Year’s warning.
They warned of high waves over the New Year holidays, which caused many Portuguese to avoid going to the beach or coastal areas to celebrate.
Expecting that people were likely to really cut loose with big events happening after so long, they even posted a video on social media urging people to avoid dangerous behavior. The title was “Enjoy your New Year by the sea, but don’t go in the water.”

“Many Portuguese head to the beach or coastal areas to celebrate the New Year, but we’re expecting the seas to be incredibly rough. Feel free to visit, but there is no need to get in the water in order to celebrate.”

They’re not wrong…
Although, Portugal is a haven for surfers, and among the ones heading out to catch their first wave of the year, there are always those looking to go for their first swim as well. Some even dive from the shore into the waves wearing just a bathing suit!
Feliz Ano Novo!


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

View a list of Megumi Ota's

What's New


What's New