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Holidays, Celebrations, and Festivals in Portugal
There are many…
Portuguese people work hard. But they also play hard and frequently! This country prides itself on holidays, events, and festival celebrations. As a foreign resident in Portugal from the United States, I am not accustomed to frequent holidays or festivals where quite often, everything closes down in observance of the celebration. As I’m not always aware of a public holiday or a local celebration in Portugal, I usually suspect something’s up when I see the parking lot packed with the cars of commuters in our condo community during the middle of the week.
Perhaps I hadn’t noticed many holiday or festival celebrations last year because of Covid. Many of these were not held during the pandemic. But now that Covid is here to stay and the world is learning to live with it (and hopefully people are still washing their hands and wearing masks when appropriate), public celebrations of all kinds are making a comeback. So, I decided to investigate the public holidays, observances, events, and festivals in Portugal.
Lots of variety.
Some holidays in Portugal are national holidays. That means most places of business, municipal offices, banks, and schools are closed. Some holidays are not national but still observed such as Halloween or Mother’s Day. Other holidays, celebrations, and festivals (festas) are regional in nature such as in Porto or the Algarve. There are also smaller festivals held in towns or villages.
Most celebrations - be it a national holiday or a local celebration - are centered around food, family, and friends. It is quite common to see food trucks and vendors offering Portuguese sausages, bread, olive oils, sweets, gelado, wine, beer, and ginjinha. Often, there will be music, marching, and performances with traditional Portuguese music, costume, and dance. In many celebrations, the focus is political, historical, cultural, religious, or even sports related.
What constitutes a public holiday in Portugal?
A public holiday is defined as a legally recognized day on the calendar on which most businesses, schools, banks, and non-essential services are closed. The holidays are a combination of religious observances (primarily Roman Catholic) having a national, historical, or cultural basis.
Currently there are thirteen public holidays that are specifically designated as a no-work day and one optional (although highly observed) holiday (Carnival) each year by government decree for public servants, and companies in the case of the private sector.
Here’s an alphabetical list of the top public holidays celebrated on mainland Portugal:
All Saints Day (Dia de Todos-os-Santos) November 1st - A day of honoring the dead and also celebrated by the Catholic church to honor saints.
Assumption Day (Assunção de Nossa Senhora) August 15th - An official public holiday in Portugal it is a Catholic celebration of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Carnival – (Carnaval) – Date varies but usually in February. - A festival that marks the beginning of Lent, this is arguably the biggest festival of the year. It celebrates the end of winter and focuses on fun, food, elaborate costumes, parades, and music. The festivities can last for nearly three weeks ending on what is commonly known as Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of the Christian Lenten season.
Christmas Day (Natal) December 25th - A Christian religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. In Portugal, there are many festivities, displays, foods, and events throughout the country during the weeks leading up to Christmas Day.
Corpus Christi (Corpo de Deus) Date varies by year. - This holiday also known as Dio de Corpo de Deus, is the commemoration of the Last Supper, the day before Jesus was crucified. It is celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, sixty days after Easter.
Easter Sunday (Domingo de Páscoa) Date varies by year. - A traditional religious holiday celebrated predominantly in Portugal by the Catholic Church.
Good Friday (Sexta-feira Santa) Date varies by year. - A traditional religious holiday celebrated predominantly by the Catholic Church on the Friday before Easter Sunday.
Immaculate Conception (Imaculada Conceição) December 8th - A Catholic celebration honoring the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
Independence Restoration Day (Restauração da Independência) December 1st - A holiday commemorating December 1, 1640, when Portugal revolted against Spanish rule and regained independence.
Labour Day (Dia do Trabalhador) May 1st - The holiday is a celebration of the rights and contributions of workers in Portugal.
Liberation Day (Dia da Liberdade) April 25th - This holiday celebrates the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1974 and the establishment of the Portuguese Third Republic. It is also known as Freedom Day or Liberty Day.
New Year’s Day (Ano Novo) January 1st - This popular holiday is preceded by celebrations on New Year’s Eve. Many regions of the country celebrate with parties and firework displays.
Portugal Day (Dia de Portugal, de Camões e das Comunidades Portuguesas) June 10th - A holiday celebrating both Portuguese residents and those of Portuguese descent throughout the world.
Republic Day (Implantação da República) October 5th - Also known as Implantation of the Republic Day. The holiday commemorates the 1910 overthrow of the Portuguese monarchy and the establishment of a republic.
Other significant celebrations.
Although not considered national holidays, these festivals and celebrations remain significant in the Portuguese culture. Here is an alphabetical list of some of the top celebrations on mainland Portugal:
Arraial Lisboa Pride – Held in June, dates vary by year. - Held since 1996, this is Portugal’s primary gay pride event. There’s lots of music, dance, food, drink, celebration, and fun.
Fatima Pilgrimage (Peregrinação de Fátima) May 13th - This pilgrimage is arguably Portugal’s most famous. It commemorates the vision of the Virgin Mary in Fatima by three children on May 13, 1917. Although the faithful visit Fatima all year, May 13th is the most important. A statue of the Virgin Mary is carried in a procession to the Chapel of the Apparitions while the crowd’s wave which handkerchiefs in farewell.
Feast of the Crosses (Festa das Cruzes) Held in May, dates vary by year. - Held in the Minho Province in the municipality of Braga, the feast dates to the sixteenth century when in 1504 a shoemaker saw the shape of a black cross on the ground and considered it to be a sacred sign from God. Originally a religious festival and pilgrimage, today it is more of a public celebration that includes, parades, performances, and fireworks.
Feast of Saint Anthony – June 12th - Also known as the Lisbon Sardine Festival. Held in the Alfama district of Lisbon, this festival honors St. Anthony, the patron saint of Lisbon and romance. There is an abundance of grilled sardines offered by street vendors as well as wine, beer, music, and dancing. Pots of basil are displayed everywhere and is a symbol of love that a man gives to their loved one. The plant holds a paper carnation with a message of love.
Feast of Saint John of Porto (Festa de São João do Porto) June 23rd - Held in Porto, this festival honors Saint John the Baptist. There are street parties and music that continues into the night.
Feast of Saint Matthew (Feira de São Mateus) August to September, dates vary by year. - In the town of Viseu, near the border with Spain in the province of Beira Alta, this city is a key area of religious architecture and art. This festival and procession commemorate Saint Matthew.
Festival of the Red Waistcoat (Festa do Colete Encarnado) First week in July. - Portugal’s version of the running of the bulls. This festival attracts thousands of people to Vila Franca de Xira where bulls are released to run through the streets. There are also dances, concerts, and bull fights.
Holy Week (Semana Santa) Dates vary by year. - There are religious processions throughout Portugal during Holy Week. In Braga, the city center is decorated with flowers and lights. In Loulé, located in the Algarve, the Feast of the Sovereign Mother (Festa da Mãe Soberana) is a procession honoring the patron saint of the city.
National Horse Fair (Feira Nacional do Cavalo) Two weeks in November. Dates vary by year. - Held in Golegã, Portugal’s equestrian capital, this festival spans two weeks and celebrates the Lusitano horse breed. There are competitions, horse-related festivities, and food and wine.
Rock in Rio Lisboa– Held in June, dates vary by year. - A large and highly popular music festival based on the Brazilian Rock in Rio. It is held in Parque da Bela Vista on two consecutive weekends and features international musicians and DJs on multiple stages.
Saint Martin’s Day (São Martinho) November 11th - This celebration honors Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier in the fourth century who during a snowstorm cut his cloak in half to give to a freezing beggar to warm him. Legend says that after Martin gave the cloak to the beggar, the sun came out. November is also the time that chestnuts ripen, and the first wine of the season is in abundance. Celebrated throughout Portugal, there are parties, bonfires, and plenty of roasted chestnuts and wine honoring the early winter and Saint Martin.
How to find events.
Not all events will be published online, especially in some of the smaller villages where you’ll be more likely to see posters hanging on fences or telephone poles. But there are other online resources you can check that provide information on some of the more popular celebrations. Here’s a list:
Public Holidays Global - A free public holidays calendar. The company is based in Sydney, Australia and founded in 2011. Provides dates and descriptions of public holidays for over 200 countries and territories and includes the current and future years holiday calendar for each country.
Rick Steves Upcoming Holidays and Festivals in Portugal – A list of many of the most popular festivals and holidays, updated annually.
VisitPortugal – this is the official tourism website for Portugal. Search for events in your area. You can create a profile with the types of events you’re interested in. The site is available in several languages including English.
Do you have a favorite Portuguese holiday, festival, event, or celebration? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below and tell me about it.
Muito obrigada (many thanks) to Mari for supporting Our Portugal Journey through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity and interest help to keep this publication free to subscribers.
Until next time…