Activities in Portugal,  Portuguese Culture

Halloween in Portugal: What Are the Traditions?

It’s that time of year again where the days are getting shorter, there’s a crisp chill in the air, and it’s harvest time for the crops. It’s also time to get ready for Halloween.


Halloween in the United States

In the United States, Halloween is a pretty big deal. It’s an American tradition. We celebrate with Halloween parties, and kids dress up in costumes to go door-to-door for trick or treating, begging for sweets, money, or whatever.

Trick or treat, smell my feet,
Give me something good to eat.
If you don’t, I don’t care,
I’ll pull down your underwear!

I had forgotten that there was a second sentence to that trick-or-treat jingle. Did you know about or remember it?

Halloween in Portugal

In Portugal, Halloween is not a tradition, but it is gaining popularity. Immigrants from the United States and other countries that celebrate it brought the traditions of Halloween with them. Portuguese people are slowly adopting these traditions into their culture. Halloween is only observed in scattered areas, mainly the big cities of Lisbon and Porto. I don’t know how popular Halloween is in Coimbra yet, but I’ll let you know next year.

In Lisbon and Porto, you may see a few flyers scattered around advertising Halloween parties. You may even see a few trick-or-treaters. Kids are copying what they see on television and in the movies; that’s one of the ways these customs are being adopted.

The Portuguese version of Trick-or-Treat

In some parts of Portugal, it is common to see children going door-to-door, mostly to relatives’ houses, asking for Pão-por-Deus (Bread for God). The kids will knock on the door and recite a verse like:

ó tia, dá Pão-por-Deus? 
Se o não tem Dê-lho-Deus!
Pão por Deus, Fiel de Deus,
Bolinho no saco, Andai com Deus.

(Auntie, give bread for God?
If you don’t have it, God will give it to you!
Bread for God, God’s faithful,
Dumpling (cookie) in the bag, Walk with God.)

When they go to the houses, children expect things like pomegranates, cakes, sweets, chestnuts, and walnut and dried fruit biscuits. Sometimes, the relatives will play a trick on the children and say they have nothing to give.

Olha foram-me os rates ao pote e não me deixcram farelo nem farelote.

(Sorry! The rats ate all of my food.)

The children respond with mini threats until they get the goodies. I wonder if they threaten to pull down the relative’s underwear, like in the American jingle.

Other Halloween traditions in Portugal

Pumpkin-carving is a tradition in some parts of Portugal. In the northern region, pumpkins are known as coco, named after a mythical monster named Coco.

Throughout Portugal, especially in the northern region, there are a number of pagan festivals. In the town of Cidões, the festival is Festa da Cabra e do Canhoto (Carbs and Left-handed Feast).

The Origins of Halloween

Paganism is actually where Halloween originated. It was the Celtic festival of Samhain, the festival of summer’s end. The Celtic new year started on 1 November, so 31 October was almost like New Year’s Eve is to us. Samhain meant the end of summer and harvest season. It also meant the cold weather and harsh times were coming.

The Celts believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth and wandered among the living on the night of 31 October. So the Celtic people would burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the gods and wear scary costumes to ward off the ghosts.

All Saints’ Day

The day after Halloween, on 1 November, is All Saint’s Day (O Dia de Todos os Santos). This is a national holiday in Portugal. It is a day to remember the saints and martyrs.

On this day, Portuguese people spend the day cleaning family headstones and plots at the cemetery. Although it can be corrosive to headstones, bleach is commonly used throughout Portugal for cleaning them. During the day into the evening, you may also see church services in the graveyards.

Often, you’ll find flower vendors selling chrysanthemums for the graves. I would venture to guess that they sell quite a few flowers throughout the country on that day.

You may also see street food vendors to feed the families in the cemeteries. One popular item for sale might be roasted chestnuts. Another might be farturas (Portuguese-style fried doughnuts).

All Souls’ Day

All Souls’ Day is another day for honoring the dead in Portugal. However, this is not a national holiday.

On 2 November, All Souls’ Day is the day to remember family members who have passed. People often return to the cemeteries after work but may choose instead to remember them at home.

Halloween-related Words in Portuguese

Here are some Halloween-related words in Portuguese –

Halloween – Dia das Bruxas
All Saint’s Day – Dia de Todas os Santos
Dead – Morto
Church – Igreja
Grave – Sepultura or Túmulo
Pumpkin – Abóbora
Witch – Bruxa
Spider – Aranha
Sweets – Doces
Moon – Lua


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