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Valentine Celebrations in Portugal
A little romance steeped in legend.
Since living in Portugal, Paul and I have experienced a plethora of holidays and festivities. For such a small country, they sure know how to celebrate in a big way. So, I was wondering if there were any special traditions or celebrations of love on Valentine’s Day. It turns out not so much in modern times, but I found an interesting backstory about romance with roots in ancient legends.
Steeped in legend.
The origins of Valentine’s Day in Portugal and much of the world, are steeped in legend. Although no one knows for certain, the two most popular legends in Portugal originate from both religious and pagan lore.
In the legend stemming from religious lore, the story of Saint Valentine goes back to the third century when the Roman1 Emperor Claudius II prohibited marriages because he was obsessed with developing an army of great soldiers to further his ambitions of extending his empire. The emperor did not want young men to marry as he wanted no familial distractions from his army in his quest for power.
A Christian priest named Valentin disagreed with the emperor’s ruling and continued to perform marriages in secrecy. When his disobedience was discovered, Valentin was arrested and sentenced to death.
While in prison, Valentin received flowers and notes from young people as a show of support for their belief in love. During this time the blind daughter of a jailer asked her father to allow her to meet Valentin. Valentin and the girl fell in love and legend says the girl miraculously regained her sight. According to legend, before he was executed on February 14, 270, Valentin sent the girl a love letter and signed it, “From your Valentine.”
In the legend stemming from Pagan lore, the annual festival, Lupercalia was celebrated in Ancient Rome on February 15th. The festival honored Juno, goddess of women and marriage, and the god of nature, Pan, and was intended to purify the city and promote health and fertility. This festival also marked the start of Spring and the beginning of mating season for birds.
Pope Gelasius I, the bishop of Rome in the late 400’s banned pagan celebrations in favor of Christianity, and replaced Lupercalia with the celebration of Saint Valentine on February 14th when people would leave handwritten messages at the entrance of the doors of the ones they loved. In the 1960’s the Catholic Church ended the celebration of this festival.
Valentine Scarf - A Portuguese Valentine’s tradition dating back to the 17th century is the Valentine Scarf. Prevalent in the Minho area of the country (northern Portugal), known for beautiful handcrafted embroidery, young girls would learn how to embroider at an early age so that they could start making embroidered linens for their trousseau.
The scarf (or handkerchief) was embroidered in flowery, romantic patterns sometimes with messages of love, and was worn by young women of marriageable age. The tradition states that young women embroidered their scarf and then would offer it (or sometimes ‘accidentally’ drop it) to a young man that caught her eye. If the young man accepted, he would have to wear the scarf publicly as a symbol of the start of their relationship. If he did not wear the scarf, it meant that he was not interested. In modern times, you can find Valentine scarves in shops carrying souvenirs or linens.
(Side note: when I became a teenager, my Portuguese paternal grandmother would give me gifts of hand embroidered linens on my birthday and told me to save them for ‘the future’. I still have a few).
Modern Valentine’s Day.
Cantarinha dos Namorados - A Portuguese Valentine’s tradition that remains to this day is Cantarinha dos Namorados from Guimarães. Known as the Valentine’s Cantarinha, the vessel is handcrafted by Portuguese potters using the same methods as in the 16th century. The red clay pitchers sprinkled with white mica are shaped in the form of a water pitcher and decorated.
Legend says that when a young man decided to propose marriage, he would first offer the young woman a Cantarinha. If the gift was accepted and the woman’s parents approved, the vessel would be used to store money saved by the bride-to-be so that she could buy a gold cord that she would carry on her wedding day. Another legend says that the vessel was used to store gold gifts or trinkets from the bride’s parents.
Cantarinhas are made up of three parts: the large base represents prosperity, the smaller piece on top of the large base represents the problems that couples will have to face, and the top is made in the shape of a bird. Legend has it that the bird is the secret keeper of the relationship.
Although not necessarily used for romance nowadays, these vessels are pieces of art. (I would like one of these instead of chocolates or flowers!).
Portugal is made for romance – Lovers of all ages can spend a Valentine’s Day in Portugal and feel the romance! From historic cathedrals to traditional villages, from the sights and sounds of Lisbon or Porto, from a cruise down the Douro River, from delicious wines and spirits, or delectable desserts and chocolates, to inviting beaches and cobbled streets, to small local cafes and Michelin star restaurants, there’s romance around just about every corner!
This year, Paul and I won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day on February 14th but rather on February 18th when we attend a Candlelight Vivaldi concert at the Maritime Museum in Belem. What are your plans for Valentine’s Day? Leave a comment and tell me about it!
PS: Muito Obrigada (many thanks) to Mel and Nina 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…
The Romans occupied Portugal from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD.