Portugal celebrates a lot of holidays throughout the year, and most of them have roots in Christian celebrations, while others are all about the seasons and some historical events. The traditions people follow are different from those in the United States, but most fall on the same days, like Christmas and Easter.
Christmas time in Portugal is very special! Families cook many traditional dishes with produce from their region, like pumpkin and carrot dumplings sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. On the night of the 24th of December, everyone gets together and eats codfish, a very popular fish in Portugal, and the family opens the presents after dessert. Some families go to Rooster’s Mass at midnight and on the 25th, eat special leftover dishes and keep their decorations up until the 6th, or King’s Day.
Shortly after, Portugal has Carnaval! It’s not always on the same day of the month, because it happens on a Tuesday, 47 days before Easter (same time as Mardi Gras). Think of Carnaval as a last time to have fun before the solemn time of Easter – and Portuguese people have a lot of that in store. In villages you can still see the traditional costumes of “Entrudo” as Carnaval is known there, where young men dress in colorful fringe outfits and go prank their girlfriends at home, who in turn, get to throw eggs and flour at them. There are also parades where everyone can participate with topsy-turvy costumes or traditional masks. In more recent times, children get to wear whatever costume they like, so it’s a time to fulfill fantasies and dreams, and take those costumes to school parades and dances.
Easter time is much quieter. Families cook up and buy all sorts of sweets, like angel cake, sugar almonds and chocolate eggs, and lay out flowers at their doors to let the procession know they wish to have their house blessed. When the procession passes, the priest and acolytes (they’re the priest’s helpers) go in and commune with the family, have a bite of the many good things at the table, and bless the home with holy water. It’s a great time for families to get together at their older relative’s homes and have all the cousins play together!
During the summer, popular saint holidays are maybe the most specific to Portugal, and a lot of fun. Each city has a patron saint, so not all of them happen on the same day. In Porto for example, on the 24th of June, S João is celebrated with a lot of activities. In preparation for the party, everyone buys “mangerico” (basil) pots with little flags containing popular rhymes. Children make paper lanterns that are set on fire and float through the sky at dusk while their parents start a barbeque of sardines, pork and bell peppers. After everyone has eaten, the family heads downtown to watch the fireworks at midnight and gets to hit strangers in the head with soft plastic hammers or long stemmed garlic leaves. It’s very unique and a lot of fun for all ages!