I wondered what holidays are celebrated in Portugal the other day.
I was out shopping and saw autumn decorations everywhere. That made me wonder – is Halloween celebrated in Portugal?
That thought then morphed into a question for holidays in general. What holidays do the Portuguese celebrate? And how do they celebrate them?
Let’s first discuss the holidays observed in all of Portugal …
Portugal’s National Holidays
When national holidays fall Monday to Friday, businesses generally close for the day. If they fall on the weekend, Monday remains a regular workday.
January and February
Portugal celebrates New Year’s Eve/Day (o Ano Novo) with fireworks at midnight in the major cities. But Portugal has some specific traditions practiced by the Portuguese people.
As Joana Cabo states in the blog post, The Coolest New Year’s Traditions in Portugal, for ecoTours Portugal,
“A rich country like Portugal has also got its own traditions. [A] decent Portuguese will always do one of the following after the 12 strokes [at midnight]:
- On the first day of January, you should take a dive in the ocean
- Dance around a tree to attract prosperity
- Jump 3 times with one leg, holding a glass of champagne in one hand at the 12 strokes
- Eat 3 raisins and ask for three wishes right after midnight
- Hold some money in your hand at the 12th stroke”
Others say that you should eat 12 raisins, one for each stroke of the clock, and with each raisin, you should make a wish. After jumping with the champaign (and not spilling it), you should then toss the liquid over your shoulder. This ensures that you leave behind all the bad things that happened the past year.
Another tradition concerns the clothes you wear at midnight. Blue brings good luck, Red brings love, Yellow brings money, White brings peace, Green brings health, and Brown brings professional success. I haven’t found any info for what you get if you wear a rainbow of colors. Be sure that your clothes aren’t too tight or have holes or tears. That may bring you money problems.
March and April
Good Friday and Easter
About 70% of the people are devoted Roman Catholics. They place a lot of meaning on religious holidays. In the Christian calendar, Good Friday and Easter fall either in March or April on a Friday and the following Sunday.
According to Wikipedia, “Easter is traditionally celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal [Jewish Passover] full moon, which is the first full moon on or after March 21 [Spring Equinox].”
On the Friday before Easter (Good Friday), the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ are remembered. It is a public holiday and businesses close.
In the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday, during Lent, people usually don’t eat meat, especially on Fridays. This is true on Good Friday, as well. Instead, they eat bacalhau (codfish). There are 365 Portuguese recipes for bacalhau. The fish diet doesn’t have to be the same day after day. That would be boring.
Easter Sunday is traditionally a family day. People go to church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ then they return home to spend time with their families and eat a feast.
On Easter Sunday, the “no meat” rule ends. Traditionally, people eat roast lamb or baby goat (kid) at their main meal. These meats celebrate Jesus, the “Lamb of God.” People marinate the lamb and kid in white wine and spices then roast the meats.
Sweets are popular at Easter, chocolate eggs being the most typical. People enjoy candied almonds (amendoas) as well. A braided sweet bread (Folar de Páscoa) with eggs nestled in between the braids is also traditional. The eggs symbolize the death and rebirth of Jesus.
Other March and April Holidays in Portugal
In April, on the 25th, is Freedom Day. Official commemorations celebrate the day in 1974 that dictatorship ended and democracy began. On April 25 in the following year, the people held their first free elections.
In 1974, a nearly bloodless, left-wing, military-led coup ended the rule by Marcelo Caetano. Following the death of António Salazar in 1969, Caetano assumed power. This coup was called the Carnation Revolution.
People spoke with Caetano’s army and convinced them not to resist. They then placed carnations in the barrels of the soldiers’ guns and laid flowers on the ground as carpets. Traditionally, carnations symbolize love and passion. Since 1974, they now also symbolize peace.
May and June
1 May is Labor Day/May Day in Portugal. Businesses, schools, and government close for the day.
Labor Day generally celebrates the wins of the labor movement. These include better wages, reasonable hours, better working conditions, and age restrictions. Wikipedia says, “It is used as an opportunity for workers and workers’ groups to voice their discontent over working conditions in demonstrations across Portugal.”
Portuguese around the world celebrate Portugal Day on 10 June. It commemorates the year 1580 death of Luís de Camões, Portugal’s greatest poet. He wrote Os Lusíadas in 1572, an epic poem that focuses on the heroic explorations of 15th-century Portugal. It’s thought to be one of the most important works in Portuguese literature.
Camões wrote Os Lusíadas while traveling and exploring by ship. He survived a shipwreck near present-day Vietnam. Popular folklore says he saved his poem by swimming to shore with one arm held above the water, holding the precious work above water.
Corpus Christi Day is a Roman Catholic festival observed on the first Thursday after the Sunday 60 days past Easter. It celebrates “the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.” (Wikipedia)
The Eucharist is a sacrament and sacrifice in Roman Catholic tradition. It’s a symbol of the Last Supper which occurred the night before the death of Jesus. In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ becomes the bread and wine and is offered and received. This is different from Communion, where the bread and wine are merely symbols of Jesus.
July and August
The only national holiday in Portugal in this two-month span is Assumption Day on 15 August. This is another important day in the Roman Catholic tradition.
The Feast of the Assumption of Mary remembers two things – the death of the mother of Jesus and her assumption into heaven. Jesus ascended into heaven by his own power, but Mary was taken into heaven by God.
This is a day to celebrate Mary being taken into heaven and her union with her Son, Jesus. It’s a day of Holy Obligation, and Roman Catholics are required to attend Mass.
September and October
On 5 October 1910, the Portuguese Republican Party overthrew the monarchy, the House of Braganca. They put a French-style republican form of government in place. The House of Braganca had been in power since the 11th century. Republic Day is celebrated every 5 October.
This republican form of government lasted just 16 years, but it’s celebrated every year. In 1926, on 28 May, a military dictatorship gained power by a coup d’état.
November and December
Roman Catholics and some Protestants celebrate All Saints’ Day on 1 November. It’s a day to remember all those who entered heaven, whether they were official saints or not.
In the Roman Catholic faith, it’s a Holy Day of Obligation and its adherents are expected to go to Mass.
On 1 December, Portugal celebrates its Restoration of Independence. Portugal regained its independence after being ruled by Spain for 60 years, from 1580-1640.
In 1578, the young king of Portugal, Sebastian I, died in the Battle of Alcácer Quibir, in northern Morocco. He had no children, so his great-uncle, Henry I, became king. Henry I also had no heirs. Upon his death in 1580, Philip II of Spain claimed the throne of Portugal.
In 1640, a coup d’état overthrew King Philip IV of Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese nobility offered the throne to the man who would become King John I of Portugal.
Every year on 9 December, the Portuguese celebrate Immaculate Conception Day. This is the belief of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. It’s universally celebrated 9 months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary on 9 September, the day believed to be the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
On Immaculate Conception Day, Roman Catholic churches hold Mass to celebrate the day that the Virgin Mary became pregnant with Jesus (who the Church believes to be the Son of God).
The last of the national holidays in Portugal is Christmas Day on 25 December. This is the day the world over that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.
In Portugal, Christmas Eve holds the main celebration. Families gather around the Christmas tree and Crèche, the nativity scene. Most children write letters to the baby Jesus, rather than to Santa, to ask for presents.
Dinner on Christmas Eve is usually codfish, green vegetables, and boiled potatoes. This is followed by expensive foods like shellfish or wild meats.
Following dinner, many families attend midnight Mass. After Mass, they return home, gather around the table, and have a light second supper. Yes, in the wee hours of the morning.
Some families open presents after Midnight Mass, and some wait until Christmas morning. Instead of stockings, children set out one shoe. In the morning, the shoes have treats in them.
On Christmas Day, people usually eat stuffed turkey and the usual desserts. A table in the living room has all sorts of goodies on it. Hosts spread cakes, fried cookies, traditional foods, nuts, and other goodies for people to enjoy.
Regional Holidays in Portugal
Many towns and cities celebrate various, locally important days. Each community has its own patron saint and saint’s day. Here, I’ll mention some of the major regional holidays I’ve discovered.
January and February
6 January is Epiphany (O Dia de Reis -King’s Day), the day the Three Wise Men appeared in front of the Baby Jesus and presented their gifts. It marks the end of the Christmas holiday. This is not one of the official holidays in Portugal. Businesses, schools, and government offices remain open. People take down all Christmas decorations the following day.
On the night of 5 January, children leave out their shoes with straw and carrots for the horses that carry the magi. In exchange, the magi leave sweets and cake for the kids.
Many families mark the end of the season with a traditional dinner followed by the king cake (bolo-rei). The king cake itself is not too sweet, but it’s covered in candied and dried fruit then sprinkled with powdered sugar.
“In 2009, a giant bolo-rei measuring about 70 meters (230 ft) and weighing around 200 kilograms (440 lb) was baked for the town of Olhão by pastry chef Filipe Martins of Pastelaria Kubidoce.” (Wikipedia)
March and April
St. Joseph Day is on 19 March. Roman Catholics celebrate the husband of Mary and the legal father of Jesus on this day.
The 23rd of April is St. George’s Day. People celebrate it in various areas in Portugal, usually by going to Mass and flying the St. George’s Cross.
Ascension Day occurs 39 days after Easter Sunday, so it’s in either April or May. It celebrates the ascension of Jesus to heaven following his resurrection (on Easter).
May and June
Early in May, Coimbra celebrates Burning of the Ribbons during a week of graduation festivities. A different color represents each of the eight faculties at the university. Humanities (Dark Blue), Law (Red), Medicine (Yellow), Sciences and Technology (light Blue), Pharmacy (Purple), Economics (Red and White), Psychology and Education Sciences (Orange), and Sports Science and Physical Education (Brown).
Students wear the ribbon that matches their field of study for all of their college years. In the second semester of their final year, students burn their ribbons, one color per day, during the 8-day festivities.
The Day of the Azores is a moveable holiday, celebrated sometime between the last week of May and the second week of June. The date is the Monday after Pentecost (50 days after Easter, the day Christians say the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus).
This regional holiday celebrates the autonomy of the Azores following the Carnation Revolution and the signing of the Portuguese constitution in 1976.
A Month of Saints’ Days
On 13 June, Lisbon celebrates the Feast of St. Anthony, the patron saint of Lisbon. During the festival, hundreds of singers and dancers in traditional costumes parade in each of the neighborhoods. People eat lots and lots of sardines during the festival.
St. Anthony is also the patron saint of marriages. Lisbon has a tradition of celebrating hundreds of marriages on this day, since 1958.
The Feast of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on 24 June in several towns and cities. In Porto, festivities have been held for more than six hundred years and have both sacred and pagan traditions. A journalist from The Guardian said (in 2004), “Porto’s Festa de São João [Feast of St. John] is one of Europe’s liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside the country.”
One tradition, based on pagan courtship rituals, is for people to hit each other with garlic flowers or plastic hammers. Some courtship! There are dance parties, street concerts, and lots of barbequed sardines and meat with wine and port available nearly everywhere. Since this festival occurs near midsummer, another pagan tradition is incorporated – jumping over the bonfire. People do this for protection for the rest of the year.
Other cities and towns may celebrate the Feast of St. Peter on 29 June. It’s a holy day of obligation, but much like with the other saints’ feasts this month, festivities abound, both religious and pagan.
In addition to the jumping of the bonfire, there is the tradition known as Queimar a Alcachofra [“Burn the Artichoke”]. People believe this brings good luck.
July and August
Elizabeth of Aragon was the Queen Consort to King Denis of Portugal beginning in 1288. She was a devout Roman Catholic. Elizabeth was beatified in 1526 [recognized by the Church to be able to intercede on the behalf of people] and canonized in 1625 [recognized as a saint]. St. Elizabeth Day is commemorated in Coimbra on 4 July.
St. Elizabeth of Portugal spent her life helping the poor. She was also a peacemaker. After the death of her husband, the king, she retired to the convent she founded in Coimbra.
Funchal City Day is celebrated on 21 August. In 1508, Funchal, on the island of Madiera, King Manuel I elevated it from a town to a city by Royal Charter.
September and October
The Nativity of Mary is the celebration of the day, 8 September, that the Virgin Mary was born. It’s been celebrated this way for over 1400 years. Actually, no one knows her real birthday, but the Eastern (Orthodox) Church begins its calendar with September. I guess it just seemed like a good day. It’s also 9 months after Immaculate Conception Day.
The Julian Calendar for the Christian year is the “old calendar.” The Julian calendar places the Nativity of Mary on 8 September. It has since been replaced by the Gregorian Calendar. Most western Roman Catholic churches use the “new calendar” and celebrate it on 21 September.
Machico, on Madeira Island, celebrates the annual pilgrimage to the Lord of Miracles in Peru on 9 October. It’s also the anniversary (in 1803) of the worst natural calamity since Madeira was settled. Hundreds of people died by a certain settlement of clay, silt, sand, and gravel left by flowing streams, called alluvium.
The Lord of Miracles is a venerated painting of Jesus Christ in Lima, Peru, painted in the 17th century. A segment of Catholics believes in and honors this painting. They gather for a 20-hour march around Lima in one of the largest processions in the world.
The day after Christmas, 26 December, is not an official holiday, but many people take the day off from work to spend extra time with their families. Businesses remain open, but service may be slow.
So there you have it. Portuguese people are certainly industrious and hardworking, but they have many celebrations and festivals all year.
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