Portugal has many holidays and festivities, some of which it shares with the rest of the world, such as New Years, but others are unique to the country or different from how they are celebrated elsewhere. Here are some noteworthy examples.
In Portugal, Valentine’s is celebrated on the 14th of February, like in the rest of Europe. This is different from the Brazilian celebrations which take place on the 12th instead. Also, unlike in Brazil, parades are rare in Portugal for these festivities. Instead couples give each other gifts and spend time together.
While it is not a public holiday, Portuguese Carnaval is a sight to behold. Before Easter, many countries celebrate the arrival of the holidays, but the manner is always very different. In Portugal, you can find the traditional Carnaval in small towns where young men (Caretos) dress up in colorful costumes and masks to chase the local residents around town. It is an old Celtic tradition that is still being upheld centuries later. In larger cities, parades take place and there are wagons that mock political events and figures. The celebrations vary in intensity depending on the region.
Easter & Good Friday
Easter has a very important role in Portugal, seeing as Good Friday is a public holiday. The whole Easter week is a very spiritual time. Good Friday is the day of mourning for the death of Jesus, so churches hold masses and it is a somber celebration, preparing for the resurrection and celebrations to come. Many people fast in the time before Easter, to prepare themselves spiritually for the holiday. Food is also an important part of the holiday and families usually gather to eat together. Chocolate almonds and roasted lamb are some of the traditional dishes served. Traditionally, godchildren offer flowers or other gifts to their godparents on the Sunday before Easter too.*
This national holiday marks the beginning of democracy in Portugal. On April 25th, 1974, the dictatorship in Portugal was overthrown by a coup and a democratic system was introduced. For years Portugal had been held in a stranglehold by the dictatorship but on this day, revolutionaries across the country convinced the military to surrender and toppled the regime. A year later on the same day, the first democratic elections were held in Portugal. To this day, every year the events are remembered and the freedom that has been won is celebrated.
On the 1st of May, every year a lot of countries celebrate May Day. It is a day to appreciate the workers who keep the economy running. The appreciation of their labor dates back to the 19th century, when the 8-hour workday was introduced and as a celebration of this success for workers, the 1st of May was made a holiday. Almost all stores are closed on May Day to remember the historic change.
Also, in May, there is the pilgrimage to Fatima in the south of Portugal with religious rituals along the way. The tradition is very religious and linked to Christian history. The pilgrimage celebrates the apparition of Virgin Mary.
On June 1st, Portugal celebrates Children’s Day. The day is dedicated to all children and their future. It serves to raise awareness about education, family and the future of the children. There are also parades, festivities and family gatherings to celebrate this day.
On June 10th, Portugal celebrates its national day. This day is used to commemorate Luís de Camões, a poet who wrote “Lusiads”, one of the most important pieces of Portuguese literature. It symbolizes the glory of Portugal and this specific day was chosen, because it is the death day of Camões. His birthday was unknown, so instead the festivities were placed on a known date. It is an important day to all Portuguese, and official ceremonies involving the president and other politicians are part of the program every year.
Just a day after Portugal day, another religious holiday takes place. This time it is Corpus Christi. This tradition dates back to the 13th century, when a nun felt there should be a day for fasting after Easter. The tradition gained more relevance after the pope sanctioned it himself later and now it has some more spiritual meaning.
Apart from the nation-wide festivals and holidays, there is also a large number of local ones that are regional. Lisbon is notorious for hosting a lot of festivals and all kinds of events. These include the Lisbon Indie Film Festival around April and May. Then in June, the Festas de Lisboa take place over the whole month of June and there are celebrations and many parades. Showcasing regional art and culture alike, this festival is very colorful and loud with its peak on the 12th of June which is St. Anthony’s Day.
St. Anthony’s Day
St. Anthony was born in Lisbon and is the patron of Portugal, of children and of those who lose things. In his honor, every year celebrations take place on June 13th, particularly in Lisbon. He is viewed as an important religious person and spiritual protector of Portugal.
St. John’s Day
St. John or John the Baptist is another famous Christian religious figure because he heralded the arrival of Jesus. Since he was born six months before Jesus and Christmas is assumed as Jesus’ birthday, St. John’s day falls on the 24th of June. This coincides with the summer solstice, another religious holiday with roots in pagan religions. It is still celebrated in the Nordic countries of Europe, while St. John’s day is a Roman-Catholic holiday.
St. Peter is the patron saint of fishermen and therefore, a lot of inaugurations and blessings of boats take place on this day. The day is June 29th, however it is not a national holiday, even though it is celebrated widely. In some cities like Sintra, parades are a common occurrence on this day.
On August 15th, the ascension of Virgin Mary is celebrated. After her earthly life, Mary was taken into heaven and ascended, according to the bible. It is the main holiday relating to Mary and is celebrated with masses in churches around Portugal.
October 5th commemorates the declaration of the republic. In 1910, the reigning monarch was overthrown and, in his place, a republican system, based on the French system, was implemented. This was the first time, that Portugal had no monarch but in the turmoil of the early 20th century, the republic was replaced by a dictatorship in the 1920s. This dictatorship would continue until 1974. On October 5th, 1910 however, the basis for Portugal as we know it today was laid and vital steps towards a democratic order were taken.
Day of all Saints
This holiday serves as a time to remember all Christian saints that came before and to commemorate them. November 1st is an arbitrary date that has no significance in a historical sense here. It is common to visit the dead in cemeteries on this day as well.
Restoration of Independence
Portugal was once under Spanish rule between 1580 and 1640, after which the nobility and bourgeoisie revolted against the Spanish king to become independent once again and on December 1st, 1640 Portugal was a sovereign state again, with its own monarch.
Immaculate Conception Day
December 8th is the day commonly associated with the conception of Virgin Mary and not as the name would imply the conception of Jesus. This being another religious holiday, masses are held all over the country.
Rounding off the holiday calendar, there is of course Christmas. December 25th is a holiday that is known the world over and celebrates the birth of baby Jesus.