The Immaculate Conception is celebrated in many countries around the world in honour of the Virgin Mary of Christianity. Portugal is among these countries that celebrate.
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This Portuguese public holiday falls on December 8, following the Nativity of Mary on the 8th of September. The Immaculate Conception is meant to be a patron feast day that celebrates Nose Senhora da Imaculade Conceição (“Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception”).
The History of Immaculate Conception Day
Catholicism is at the heart of Immaculate Conception Day not just in Portugal but around the world. Catholicism teaches followers that Christ’s mother, Mary, conceived directly from God and therefore had what is referred to as an “immaculate conception” of Jesus, Son of God. In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the doctrine regarding the “Immaculate Conception” as a pillar in the faith. While the idea was new to Portugal, it certainly was not so new in other parts of the Christian world. In fact, Mary has been the subject of many art pieces. Artistic representations of Mary often show her with her foot over either the Earth, Moon, or even clouds. She is also stepping on the head of serpent, a symbol meant to represent stomping out the Devil or evil state.
Portugal was introduced to the Immaculate Conception idea and holiday when it was brought to the country in 1166 by D. Gilberto, the first Bishop of the city of Lisbon. The concept spread rapidly throughout Portuguese parishes. In 1420, a man known as D. Nuno Alvarea Pereira had an enormous church constructed and dedicated to “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception”. 226 years later, King D. João IV proclaimed that Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception would officially become the national patron saint for Portugal. With this proclamation, December 8th became an important date to all citizens of the country. Today, this means December 8th is a day people can take off from work, come home, and spend time with their families. It also gives people time to attended extra services with their respective churches.
How to Celebrate the Immaculate Conception Day in Portugal
For the celebration of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic churches hold daily masses on December 8th. The Portuguese remember Mary as Our Patron Saint. Most of the day is spent with family in gatherings or as a typical day without any work. Portuguese people often make use of the free time for some activities in the outdoors. Often, people will also visit parishes that hold local vigils for rosaries as a way to show devotion for “Our Lady”. If you will be finding yourself in Portugal during the winter months, consider checking out these key cities with festivities for the 8th of December:
- Fatima: This city hosts big celebrations after three little shepherds in 1917 claimed Our Lady appeared to them in the town.
- Lisbon: The capital of Portugal, Lisbon is sure to be full of festivities and vigils for the holiday.
- Porto: The second largest city in Portugal, Porto is also full with a multitude of celebrations regarding Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception during the month of December.
Even if you do not choose to participate directly in the holiday, you should be aware it is celebrated widely in Portugal and may cause some stores and restaurants to be closed. In many ways, this holiday is a precursor to the Christmastime celebrations. Whether you plan to be on the beaches or in the urban sprawl, keep your eyes out for this holiday and its accompanying festivities!