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Easter in Portugal

Easter in Portugal

Just as is seen in many other parts of the world, Easter traditions in Portugal are marked by processions, theatrical performances, abundant feasts and religious practices.  

Since Portugal is a country where the majority of the population is Catholic, Easter holds great importance for Portuguese families, and throughout the country you can see traditions that are unique to Lusitanian lands.   

In all the regions of Portugal there are a number of different religious events that begin on Palm Sunday and end on Easter Sunday.   

Probably the most common ritual in the country is the Easter Compasso, or Easter Visitation.  

The Easter Compass is the blessing given by the priest to the houses in the village. The parish priest, together with some helpers, passes through the village streets with a bell to announce the arrival of the crucifix. The inhabitants who want to receive the blessing, receive the parish priests in their homes and present the group of faithful with snacks and offerings for the parish.      

As previously mentioned, there are numerous traditions that mark this celebration in Portugal.  

The Via Crucis, for example, is performed in several national lands - it may change one thing or another - but they all have in common the faith and the homage to Jesus Christ.   

Its name comes from the Latin "Via Crucis", which means the way of the cross and represents the path that Jesus walked.    

The origin of this practice is very ancient. It consists of Jesus' way to Calvary. There are records of Christians travelling to the Holy Land as early as the 4th century to walk the same paths.  

Today, this path is recreated in every village in Portugal. This practice is done in homage to the martyrdom that Jesus suffered.    

Besides these more general traditions, there are traditions more specific to certain regions:    

Further north of the country, in Braga, we find another traditional custom in that area. The Procession of the Donkey, where the image of Our Lady is carried, as the name indicates, by a donkey. The inhabitants decorate the streets of the city with flowers and lights in honour of Our Lady.  

In the south of the country, in the Algarve, more precisely in São Brás de Alportel, on Easter Sunday there is the Alleluia Procession. In this procession the men of the village divide themselves in two lines with torches of flowers in homage to the resurrection of Christ.  

In Alentejo, in the town of Castelo de Vide, the procession is marked by the "Blessing of the Lambs". The purpose of this procession was to protect the cattle breeders so that there would always be plenty. On Saturday night there is a "Chocalhada", a rattle dance in which the inhabitants gather together with rattles of various shapes and sizes, emitting a characteristic noise.     

In some parishes of the Minho region, such as in Viana do Castelo and Ponte de Lima, Easter is marked by the "Jantar do Mordomo" (Butler's Dinner). Every year a butler is elected, he pays for lunch for the whole neighbourhood and carries the cross in procession.  

The Burial of the Cod is made in Beira-baixa and Baira-alta consists of a funeral procession, it happened for the first time in 1938 and was used as a protest by the people.  This procession existed because in the XVI century the church forbade the meat consumption to the people, so, during the lent the most consumed fish was the codfish, because it was the most accessible at that time. That is why this procession was born, which served as a way for the people to rebel against the church.  

The procession has three sermons: Life and Death of the Codfish, Testament of the Codfish and the Funeral of the Codfish, which takes place to the sound of Chopin's funeral march.   

The burning of the Judas takes place on Alleluia Saturday (the Saturday before Easter Sunday) at night. This tradition is lost in time and has a symbolic character of expiation of evils and purification through fire.  

Related to this event, we also find a marked satirical expression of the local people.   

It is a typically profane festival, originating in the Christian imagery according to which Judas handed Jesus over, thus becoming a traitor. This custom is very popular in different Portuguese lands.   

Another very common Easter tradition all over the country is the tradition of godfathers giving presents to their godchildren. In former times the godfathers, as a symbol of plenty after Lent, gave their godchildren a "folar" as a present. Nowadays there are those who still maintain this tradition or choose to give almonds, a sweet, or even money or a toy as is more common nowadays.  The godchildren, in turn, give an olive branch to the godfather or a bunch of violets to the godmother on Palm Sunday.   

Leaving religious traditions behind and focusing on the abundant table that the Portuguese love so much, let's look at what we can find on our tables throughout the country:    

The typical Easter sweet is the folar, the pastry can be sweet or salty depending on the area of the country. For example in Vila do Conde, the folar is always sweet, with or without candied fruit or dried fruit.  

In Trás-os-Montes, the typical folar is stuffed with veal, pork, rabbit, chicken, ham or salpicão.    

There are also folares that are a mixture of sweet and salty, as is done in the Beiras region, where the folar is seasoned with cinnamon and fennel but decorated with hard-boiled eggs baked with the pastry (shell and all).   

Easter in Portugal is also synonymous with family gatherings and abundant meals. In fact, in Portugal there is no party without a well-stocked table.    

By tradition, on Easter Sunday the family gets together and they eat kid and lamb.   

Nowadays, the most important thing for most families is the family reunion and even though the Catholic spirit is still present in most homes, Easter ends up being another reason to travel to the homeland to meet your loved ones.