Portugal is a country of tradition and costumes and Easter is no exception. The religious holiday is well celebrated in the country – comparable to, say, Thanksgiving in the USA. Families get together, there are gifts exchanged, traditional food and specific practices from region to region. Come find out more!
Easter traditions vary from town to town and region to region. The main difference is that, in some places, ‘Easter Sunday’ turns into ‘Easter Monday’ – the holiday is celebrated the next day and counts as a regional holiday in selected towns, mainly in the Alentejo. The other national Easter-related day is Good Friday, a public holiday in the whole country.
Portugal is a Catholic country, so, from Carnival to Easter, Lent is somewhat respected. A lot of people refrain from eating meat on Fridays during the 40-day period, especially on Good Friday. This includes restaurants, mostly the local ones, that won’t serve meat on these days. The Sunday before Easter – ‘Domingo de Ramos’ – is also celebrated and part of the tradition between godparents and godchildren.
As stated before, Lent is partly celebrated all over the country, so it’s common for some people to not eat meat on Fridays during that period and also for local restaurants to not have meat dishes on the menu.
It’s very common to get baptised in Portugal sometime after birth, even if the family of the baby isn’t very religious. Although in decline in recent years, it is still quite common, so most people have godparents. On Palm Sunday, godparents give their godchild a ‘folar’ – a gift usually consisting of chocolates, almonds, clothing or money. In exchange, the godchild gives their godmother a bouquet of flowers or a plant.
Between Palm Sunday and Easter, many festivities take place all over the country, mostly processions. With some examples being:
Literally translates to ‘procession of the donkey’. The whole city of Braga gets decorated with flowers, lights and Easter-related motifs and the people rally around town to see the little donkey carrying a figure of the Blessed Mother.
In São Brás de Alportel, in the Algarve, Easter Sunday is marked by the Aleluia Procession, in honor of Christ’s resurrection. Boys and men make two parallel rows on the sides of the decorated carpet in the center of the street, while carrying torches of colorful flowers in their hands.
All over the Alentejo region, but mainly in Castelo de Vide, on Easter Saturday, pastors get together to bless the municipality’s lambs (Easter’s traditional food).
Something that’s very common all over the country on Easter Sunday and the days before is to deep clean your home. This is related to a big tradition – the ‘Compasso Pascoal’, which consists in various groups of people from the local Church going to different parts of a town in order to bless the homes. Everyone gathers around in a circle, says a little prayer and kisses the cross. It’s also customary to present the people with some food and leave a tip – thus, the cleaning and extra care of the home. Also, because of this, people usually get dressed in their best outfit. The smaller the town, the more common this practice is.
As said before, lamb is the main Easter dish in Portuguese homes – typically roasted and accompanied by potatoes and rice. Another delicacy that’s common this time of the year is Folar – an Easter bread that can either be made sweet or salty. In locations like Vila do Conde and Maia (in Porto), it is always sweet and served at dessert time, whereas in Trás-os-Montes it’s much more common for Folar to be filled with meats like veal, ham and chorizo.
Because of their egg-like shape, almonds are very popular in Portugal around Easter. But not really in their natural form. During this time, almonds are enjoyed with a sugar or chocolate coating and dyed in different colors. They are mostly gifted to and enjoyed by children, but adults love them too!
Besides the sweet versions of folar, ‘pão de ló’ is also a very traditional Easter dessert in Portugal. It’s a sweet, simple cake made with a ton of eggs and sugar in its most basic form, and elevated when turned into ‘pão de ló molhado’ (moist). This superior version is mostly popular in the North, especially in Ovar.
If you’re a religious person, then a smaller town in the North or in the Alentejo is your best option – there are more specific traditions and a feeling of familiarity. However, if you just want to take advantage of the public holidays and relax, soaking up some sun in the Algarve or walking around Lisbon are some great options. Be aware that mostly everything will be closed on Easter Sunday, though.
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