The best of Portuguese popular festivities
Whenever traveling to a particular country, one is usually drawn to its history and heritage. As such, we tend to focus our attention on mystic castles, cobblestone plazas, national museum, and rich palaces. And that’s just fine, provided you’re a history addict.
However, traveling like that is like being invited to a dinner party and overlooking the guests and what they have to say. If you really want to know a country inside out you have to pay attention to a bit more than just the physical assets, you need to focus on the intangible and what lies beyond. A country has so much more to offer besides museums!
One of the many things you can do as a tourist is to get immersed in the local traditions. What better way to have fun and learn about a country at the same time? This is probably the best approach to understand where people come from. Why the country is what it is. Why there’s so much of “this” and so little of “that”. Why the personality traits of the country are much more melancholic or much happier… With its close to 900 years of existence as a country (even more as an inhabited region), Portugal is swarmed with interesting folklore stories, tradition’s and festivities, which intrinsically explain the personality of the Portuguese.
Given Rootfarers’ purpose of providing authentic experiences to authentic travelers, it only makes sense to come with us and embark on a quest to find the best festivities and traditions the country has to offer, moreover most of them take place in the Summertime so now it’s the ideal time to get out and explore these outstanding traditions! In this post, we will provide you with a Top 10 list of Portugal’s best festivities, fairs and traditions spread out through the country.
We tried to get a bit from every region of the country as well as from every period of the calendar, so please bear in mind this list is conditioned with this approach. Just an additional heads up: We didn’t include Lisbon and Porto main feasts of Saint Anthony and Saint John as their kind of mainstream and we wanted to share some off-the-beaten-path locations. Lastly, as there is so much to cover, for the sake of simplicity and reader’s endurance this post will be split in 2 (So two Top 5 Lists):
1- Romaria de Nossa Senhora da Agonia
Traditional Minho costume worn by a “Mordoma” – photo by Rui Manuel Fonseca.
As you might already know Portugal has a long history of Marian devotion. The feast dedicated to “Nossa Senhora da Agonia” or Our Lady of Sorrows in English, is one of the oldest in Portugal (since the XVII century) and probably one of the most well-known. For the latter, much is due to the agricultural parade that swarms the streets of the city of Viana do Castelo, for which the traditional garbs worn by women is probably the most iconic image of the feast. Also, don’t forget to grab some of the local food such as the “Papas de sarrabulho”.
When: Every year in August (In 2019: 16 to 20 of August)
Where: Viana do Castelo (Northern coast)
Why it’s different: A good example of traditional costumes, jewelry, and gastronomy from Northern Portugal.
2- Festa dos rapazes and Entrudo
Boys dressed up as “Caretos” prepare for moments of foly
With Celtic origins more than 2000 years ago, these two feasts/traditions take place in Trás-os-Montes, Northeast Portugal, in two different occasions: during the Entrudo (Carnaval) and during Christmas on the 25th and 26th of December. The central motif of the feasts is the “Careto” costume, which is worn by young men for different reasons depending on the time of the feast. In Christmas, this festival celebrates the passing of young boys of about sixteen years of age into manhood. During the Entrudo, it’s worn for a more fun motif: to dance and to scare girls!
When: During Christmas and Carnaval
Where: Bragança district.
Why it’s different: The Careto costume is unique and takes you back to the old days, even before the Romans had arrived.
A couple has a good time during the main parade of Festa dos Tabuleiros
Unfortunately, you’re already late for this festival as it takes place every 4 years in early July, this year was a “yes” year so you’ll only catch the next one in 2023! The festival is an ancient tradition some claim to originate in the Roman ages and their veneration of Ceres Goddess (Goddess of agriculture and grain crops), others claim its origin is traced back to the 13th century and the Holy Spirit Cult. Regardless of when it began, it’s the most important feast celebrated in the city of Tomar, also known as the Templar city. Its quintessential element is the “tabuleiro” carried by girls during the parades, which is decorated with loaves of bread, flowers and either a crown or a sphere on top. The size of the “tabuleiro” is usually the same as the girl’s carrying it so it’s not an easy task carrying those things around as you can imagine!
When: Every 4 years in early July for two weeks.
Why it’s different: Multiple Tray parades throughout the event. Also, if you miss the parades you can always visit Tomar’s narrow streets, which are decorated with papercrafts during the entire feast.
4- Festa de Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem
Decorated boats in Constância befora the main river procession
Yet another fine example of the Marian devotion that takes place in Portugal, this feast originates from the river and sea communities of Portugal. Many are the reasons for its celebration, but the most quoted is that after getting back home, local fishermen and their families want to give thanks to Our Lady of the Good Voyage for their safe return and for their successful venture. The highlight of the feast is the procession and the return to land of the image of Our Lady, transported by decorated boats.
When: Every year, Usually in August (Peniche) and in April (Constância)
Where: Many locations, the most well-known being: Peniche, Ericeira, Constância, and Nazaré.
Why it’s different: Fishermen decorate their boats.
5- Festas Sanjoaninas
Main parade and march of the Sanjoaninas in Angra do Heroísmo – Photo by Fernando JC Pereira.
This is the go-to feast of the Azores and takes place in the Island of Terceira ever since settlement started in late XV century. Dedicated to Saint John, this feast is now an amalgam of many different events, for which the Bull runs and the night parade are the most iconic elements. The island’s capital Angra do Heroísmo is where most action takes place but you can get immersed in one of the smaller villages and imbue yourself in the same spirit.
When: Every year in June.
Where: Terceira Island in the Azores
Why it’s different: multiple parades, street music, and the iconic Bull release.
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