Portugal celebrates All Saints Day on November 1 as a national holiday to honour the dead. It is a holiday celebrated by the Catholic church, usually to honour saints who do not have their own feasts day. However, also Portugal celebrates the day for different reasons.
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Origins of All Saints Day
In some cultures, the holiday known in Portugal as All Saints Day is known as the Day of the Dead. It is unclear when All Saints Day originated in Portugal. During ancient times, All Saints Day was celebrated in May, but it was moved to November 1 hoping that it would replace traditional peasant celebrations. The date also falls on the Celtic holiday of Samhain which was similar to the Roman festival of Lemuria, a harvest festival. The day is called Pao-por-Deus in Portugal. It is believed that there is a spiritual bond between those in purgatory, those in heaven and those still living.
On All Saints Day, many people spend the day honouring the dead by cleaning graves and placing flowers. Many bake sweet cakes with cinnamon or serve chestnuts and wine outdoors. In some areas, children sing while going door-to-door, much like people caroling at Christmas. Children go out in the morning, knocking on doors and asking for either “cookie” or “bread of God.” This is similar to Halloween in other countries where children ask for treats. In the past, the children of Portugal were given cakes, nuts, walnuts, almonds, bread, scones, chestnuts or dried fruit packaged in cloth bags. The bags were embroidered or made of patchwork. Today, children get sweets, chocolates or coins. In addition, families may light candles in memory of those who have died. Some church services read names of the dead prior to lighting candles as well. Offerings are made in honour of the dead in some congregations as well.
All Saints Day Earthquake
In 1755, Portugal was struck by a great earthquake on All Saints Day. The earthquake started a fire in Lisbon and left the city in ruins. Because the earthquake struck in mid-morning, many families were attending church services for the holiday leading to thousands of deaths. Approximately 10,000 to 15,000 people were killed during the earthquake. It is estimated that the earthquake may have been as strong as 8.5 on the Richter scale with an epicentre 200 kilometres off the southwestern corner of the country.