Easter in Portugal is celebrated in a very religiously oriented manner by many, and as the population is 81 percent Catholic, it is Roman Catholic traditions that predominate.
|2019||19 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|21 Apr||Sun||Easter Sunday|
|2020||10 Apr||Fri||Good Friday|
|12 Apr||Sun||Easter Sunday|
And even though only 18 percent of Portuguese Catholics regularly attend mass, during Easter time, this all changes. Easter is prepared for beginning 40 days earlier with the beginning of the Lenten period of fasting and prayer. Meat is abstained from, and often, some other favourite food or activity is temporarily given up.
When Holy Week arrives, there are various events and traditional customs to be seen throughout Portugal. To a degree, these vary from one part of the country to another, but there is much in common among regions as well. Traditions are strongest in the country areas, but the cities will have their processions and events as well.
On Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem a week before His resurrection, Portuguese godparents are given gifts by their god children, such as olive branches, almonds, chocolate candies, or flowers. Flowers are also wrapped around crosses with Christ figures on them and hung on front doors during Holy Week.
On Good Friday, also a national holiday in Portugal, Jesus’ sacrificial death is remembered. There are processions all over the country, mostly of two types: the stations of the cross, which recreates the Passion narrative, and the procession of the dead Lord, where candle-bearing chanters carry a statue of Jesus through the streets and bury him as if he had just been crucified. Finally, Good Friday is also a day on which the Portuguese, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, indulge in feasting on codfish.
On Holy Saturday, many attend an all-night Easter vigil to welcome Easter morning as soon as it arrives. The day is a time of solemnity, but it ends in great joy.
On Easter Sunday, in many small villages, priests will visit their congregants in their homes. He will bring with him a statue of Jesus, which the home’s occupants then kiss before giving the priest a small donation. Later on Easter Sunday, a festive meal will be eaten, typically of roast lamb. This is a long-awaited change-up from the fish and vegetable diet of the past 40 days.
Finally, on Easter Monday, in certain regions of Portugal, families traditionally go on picnics together to eat yet more roasted lamb.
Those who find themselves in Portugal during Holy Week may want to consider taking part in any of the following activities:
- Go to Braga, where on Maundy Thursday, a foot-washing service is held at the cathedral. It is administered by the archbishop and reminds of Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet just before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. The service is meant to highest Christ’s humility and instil humility in the congregants. While you are there, be sure to take in the majestic cathedral’s architecture.
- Eat “folar,” a sweet bread that is traditional during Easter time in the Algarve region of Portugal. It has a boiled egg baked into its centre, and it is covered with multiple layers of icing, which is mixed with caramel and cinnamon.
- Also in Braga, in the northern section of Portugal, you can visit the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, a place of great scenic beauty and religious significance. And throughout the city of Braga, during Holy Week, there are celebrations that date from Medieval times. Thousands come every year to see the altars, fitted with lights and flowers, that line the city’s streets. There is also a burial procession, “Ecce Homo,” on Good Friday, where barefoot, torch-carrying men dressed in purple attire bear Christ’s “coffin” to its ritual burial site.
Portugal is a very religious land when it comes to celebrating Easter, but you will also find Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and Easter candies filling store shelves. Both secular and religious aspects of the holiday coexist, but in Portugal’s case, the religious traditions are older and more unique.