Portuguese Easter Traditions
Portuguese people love to celebrate, of that no secrets have ever been made. With a society as old as the Portuguese, traditions that hold against the test of time are given a sacred place among many other occasions. While some celebrations are based on traditions that stand apart from religion, many of the celebration biggies are centered around religion. Because Portugal remains a country where the Catholic faith is an essential part of the culture, Easter is lived and loved with enthusiasm and devotion. It is a holiday observed with a mixture of solemnity, sustenance, pageantry, and playfulness. In other words, it is celebrated in the Portuguese way.
Like anywhere that holds to the traditional Easter celebration calendar, Portuguese Easter celebrations take place in the week leading up to Easter and continue to Pentecost Sunday. A person can't do justice to all the beautiful customs practiced within that period in one writing. Therefore, the celebrations discussed here are only a few of those in the week leading to and including Easter Sunday. Pentecost Sunday deserves its own writing.
In Portugal, every town and city appear to have its way of celebrating Easter. Some of the Easter celebrations are truly iconic, like the ones held in Braga. Here occur a series of nocturnal processions, including the Maundy Thursday Ecce Home, also named locally as Senhor da Cana Verde (The Lord of the Green Cane). This is known to be one of the most visually impressive events during Braga's Holy Week. Starting and ending at the city's cathedral, this procession is led by barefoot, black-hooded penitents who make their way through the city's medieval streets in complete silence.
It isn't to say that other Easter celebrations in Portugal aren't equally as heartfelt and dramatic. In the Santarém district, all the village lights are turned off during their nocturnal processions, and the streets are illuminated just by thousands of candles, torches, and lanterns. In the Castelo de Vide region, Easter celebrations have a Jewish origin with the Easter Saturday Blessing of the Lambs. Local shepherds come to the town center to have their flocks blessed. In Algarve, the streets are decorated with thousands of flowers and torches on Easter Sunday in a stunning show of color. In a village called Sapias, locals recreate the way of the cross on Good Friday following a trail that stops at each station where they sing and read text from the bible. Of course, all celebrations are accompanied by traditional food so that they each are a feast for the eyes, stomach, and soul. While Portugal celebrates Easter with full abandon, so do the islands of Madeira and the Açores. Read on to learn all about it.
Madeira is known for having a celebration season that never ends. Like Portugal and the Açores, Madeira jumps into its celebrations wholeheartedly and has several Easter celebrations that are as special to its residents as to those who visit. Madeirans practice the common Easter celebrations associated with its more somber side but have one that's very lighthearted and sweet. It's called balamento, or sometimes known as balamente. According to historians, this game dates to the age of the sugar mill industry. When played during that era, those who lost had to make balas (bullets) of sugar cubes to give to the game's winners. It continues to be played now during the stipulated days leading up to Easter day. It's a festive way for families, friends, and neighbors to engage and a game with the most straightforward rules. The first one seeing someone else during those stipulated days, says the word "balamento" wins. The score is kept, and the loser is obliged to offer a prize of sugar cubes, almonds, or other sweets. This game is just one of several ways that the people of Madeira mark the special season of Easter. In addition to this lighthearted game, the other Easter traditions are those also practiced in Portugal and the Açores. Speaking of the Açores, keep reading to learn what Açoreans do to observe Easter.
The Açores shares many of the same ways of celebrating Easter as Madeira and Portugal. One of those ways is with the beautiful tradition of the Compasso. This heartfelt service occurs with a small procession, led by the local priest, traveling from house to house. The priest holds a cross and blesses each home, and it's believed that the blessing brings good fortune and joy to the household. This moving tradition, along with several others, isn't practiced just in the Açores. Another shared custom among the Portuguese is offering the famous Folar da Pasco (Easter sweet bread). While recipes vary among the Portuguese, the popular way of preparing it in the Açores is with hard-boiled eggs within the loaf of sweet bread and crisscrossed shape on top of it. The eggs are said to represent rebirth, and the crisscross shapes to represent the crucifixion of Christ. This delicious bread, now served to one and all during Easter, was traditionally an offering to Godparents and priests. Lucky for everyone that the ability for all to enjoy it has expanded to all.
Easter is no doubt one of the high points in the year for the Portuguese. The traditions mentioned here are but a few of those held with the highest regard in the hearts of the Portuguese. Easter is full of symbolism that's not only observed, but it's lived with the same enthusiasm and devotion with which we Portuguese embrace all celebrations. To be Portuguese is to dive into life's occasions, events, and celebrations with full abandon, and Easter is no exception to that beautiful rule.