Portuguese National Day is celebrated every June 10th by both residents of Portugal and people of Portuguese ancestry all over the world. Its official, and much longer, name is “Day of Portugal, Camoes, and of the Portuguese Communities”.
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The date of the holiday was chosen because the death of Portugal’s most celebrated author, Luis de Camoes, occurred on June 10th, 1580. While the holiday honours Camoes, it is also a time to celebrate all things Portuguese, including Portugal’s history, culture, language, and national achievements.
Luis de Camoes wrote during the Golden Age of Portuguese Literature, which was also the great age of Portuguese exploration, colonisation, and empire building. His greatest work was the epic poem The Lusiads, written in the tradition of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid.
The poem was published in 1572, not long after Camoes returned from his own series of epic adventures in various remote corners of the world. There is even a legend he snatched the poem out of the water when shipwrecked and swam to shore one-handed, while holding the manuscript above water with the other hand.
The Lusiads is a romanticised account of the earliest Portuguese explorations around the cape of Africa, to India, and beyond. The epic and Camoes himself have come to symbolise the greatness of Portugal’s past and are as patriotic in Portugal as Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride is in the USA.
As the day of Camoes’ birth is not known, the day of his death was chosen instead as the date for Portugal’s National Day. As it so happened, he died at the time of the loss of Portuguese independence to Spain after the Portuguese king died without an heir in 1580. This led to 50 years of rule by Spain and marked the end of the great era of which Camoes has become the symbol.
National Day is celebrated in Portugal by street parties and family gatherings all over Portugal and beyond. There is much feasting, singing of patriotic songs, sports and recreation, and other festivities. Many also read Camoes’ famous poem The Lusiads.
Those touring Portugal during National Day may wish to take part in any of the following activities:
- Attend the official celebration, which is held in a different location each year. Portugal’s president will inspect a unit of soldiers and praise them for their heroism. There will also be special awards given out for various notable achievements, a military parade, fireworks displays, an orchestra playing patriotic music, and various cultural exhibits.
- See the Luis de Camoes Monument in Lisbon. Also in Lisbon, cross the longest bridge in all Europe, over 10 miles long, named “Vasco da Gama Bridge” after the great Portuguese explorer. Also visit the Bertrand Bookstore, the oldest bookstore on the planet, and if you wish, attend an S.L. Benfica soccer game.
- Read The Lusiads and also other classic works of Portuguese literature, such as by Gil Vicente, Sa de Miranda, or Bernardim Ribeiro. Look for The Message by Fernando Pessoa, which builds off of the themes of The Lusiads and predicts the rise of a new Portuguese empire when their long lost king returns to them on a foggy day.
National Day in Portugal is a time to remember both Camoes and the entire Portuguese heritage. The tourist will find there is much of interest both to do and to learn on this holiday.