Umbrella Christmas decorations

Creativity and Festivities in Lisbon

Thanks to the imagination and resourcefulness of local artists, architects and designers, Lisbon has an intriguing array of Christmas decorations to brighten up the festive season, despite a lack of cash.

Having long been a fan of Portuguese street art, I was delighted to see colourful balls of umbrellas mounted on scaffolding as my taxi passed through Praça do Chile. Going back for a closer look, I found the statue of Fernão de Magalhães smothered in blues, purples, yellows, browns and pictures of puppies fluttering in the breeze.

Captivating enough in the daylight, it was only after dark, when these umbrellas become flashing globes of many colours, that I realised they were part of Lisbon’s Christmas decoration project.

With Portugal under enormous financial pressure, the Museum of Fashion and Design launched a competition challenging artists to provide Christmas spirit on the cheap. Seven of the best entries are now illuminating strategic points around the city centre, having saved the council a massive €750,000 on its traditional lighting bill.

They’ve proved popular, too; flashing brooches have been given out to pedestrians in the shopping area of Chiado, bringing smiles and colour to the streets.  In Rossio, tall white plastic pillars rise up from the black and white paved square and at Marquês do Pombal, red and white signs point to Lapland, Christmas presents and surprises.
The novelty factor adds to the fun and the festive spirit. Not that Lisboetas need much encouragement to celebrate. On New Years Eve, the party started early in Bairro Alto with people already spilling out of the tiny bars and onto the streets by nine o’clock. Meanwhile, Avenida Liberdade was warming up the free street party with DJs and comedy acts at various kiosks along the avenue.

By 11.30, there was a steady flow of revellers making their way towards the river and Praça do Comercio. Just before the archway to the square, people stopped to pose for photographs within the snake of red plastic tree-shaped lights, another of the innovative Christmas decorations.

At the waterfront, the crowd gathered in the darkness, eager for midnight. Without a central clock to provide a countdown, premature pops of champagne corks and celebratory cheers began springing up at random until the mass decided it was 2012.

Seconds later, muffled bangs sounded across the river and the firework display began. Sparkling flowers burst into the night sky and bathed the river in a peach and green glow. Other, shorter-lived but spectacular firework displays went off at other points along the river.

Behind me, a group of people sang Happy Birthday in a language I didn’t recognise. The birthday girl blew out her ’30’ candle before a renewed round of hugs and kisses.

Fireworks over, the crowd turned towards the city centre, spreading through the streets like treacle as people went in search of parties, or beds in our case.