“Christmas to New Year’s is our great moment, and the loveliest of all Christmas customs was Menin Jesu, the little Jesus, brought by the Portuguese from the Western Islands. The older Portuguese people once kept open house from Christmas to New Year’s. Every window in their house had a candle behind it. A home ablaze with lights meant that everyone was welcome, whether or not he knew the host. Indeed, the most welcome and honored guests were the strangers.
In the front room was a pyramid of graduated shelves. One candle on top, on the next shelf two saucers of sprouted wheat; on the next, two candles; on the next, four saucers of sprouted wheat, and so on. These represented the Resurrection and the Light. At the bottom was a crèche of little figures brought from the Western Islands. To everyone who came was given a tiny cordial glass of homemade wine—beach plum, elderberry, or dandelion—and a tiny cake.
The Avellars and ourselves used to go at Christmas through the western part of town, seeing down a dark lane, under willow trees, houses brilliant with light. In the distance there was the sound of music and singing. The ships’ bands of Portuguese instruments, from the great vessels, went from house to house, saluting the Menin Jesu. In some houses they would have both the Menin Jesu and a Christmas tree—the Christmas tree, with its presents, looking materialistic and Teutonic beside the sprouted wheat and the lights. Little by little the custom of Menin Jesu has vanished. Only a few very old people still celebrate it.”
—Time and the Town: A Provincetown Chronicle, by Mary Heaton Vorse, © 1942