Traditions for Expats in Portugal and Lisbon
Like all European countries, Portugal has many colorful traditions and fiestas that make life interesting and exciting.
Portugal observes all the usual holidays like Christmas and New Year. For a complete list of Portuguese National holidays and the dates on which they fall, go here.
On this website, you can change the region to either Lisbon, Porto, Madeira, or Azores and change the year.
The Portuguese love a festival, and there are many celebrated throughout the country’s towns and villages. Portuguese festivals are lively events incorporating their history, music, food, and wine. Here are two of the most popular events:
Santo Antonio Festival is held in Lisbon every June. It attracts thousands of people onto the streets marching in parades, decorating their homes with basil plants, eating grilled sardines with cornbread, and drinking wine. As this saint is also the patron saint of matchmaking and weddings, many weddings and engagements happen during this time. It is an enchanting and colorful time to be in Lisbon.
São João is a similar festival held in Porto and Braga in June. A unique feature of this festival is that in the evening, everyone walks around with a plastic hammer or leek and gently hits passers-by on the head. Also, people launch hot air paper balloons into the night sky.
Every June, a massive music festival called ‘Rock in Rio-Lisboa’ is held in Lisbon. This festival is based on the famous Brazilian counterpart, Rock in Rio. It is held in Lisbon’s Bela Vista Park over four days, two weekends. This year, 2021, the festival is on hold due to Covid but expected to back bigger and louder than ever in 2022.
The Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima is an important, traditional event for many people. The most significant days for this pilgrimage are 13 May and 13 October.
It was on the 13 May 1917 that the first apparition of Our Lady appeared to three shepherds.
The 13 October 1917 celebrates the last apparition of Our Lady when she requested that a chapel be built in her name. On this day, it is recorded that 70,000 people witness her presence.
Today, people visit the chapel for all sorts of personal reasons and to offer prayer.
One of the most well-known musical genres from Portugal is Fado. This traditional and hauntingly beautiful music captures feelings of melancholy and sadness. The word ‘Fado’ means ‘fate.’
To experience Fado in Lisbon, head to the bars and restaurants in the Alfama district.
One tradition that is synonymous with Portuguese architecture is the strikingly gorgeous blue tiles known as Azulejos. The history of these tiles goes back to the 8th century when Portugal was under Islamic rule. In the 15th century, the Christians took back Portugal, and the tradition of decorating walls, floors, and ceilings began.
The Barcelos Rooster is an unofficial symbol of Portugal. You will see it in the souvenir shops on mugs and tiles and t-shirts. The rooster is said to be a symbol of happiness and love for life. Barcelos is a town in northern Portugal where the tale of the rooster first began. A pilgrim traveling through Barcelos had been wrongly accused of committing a crime. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to death by hanging. The pilgrim claimed that the rooster would crow if he were innocent. The rooster crowed, and he was saved from the noose. Today you will see this famous brightly colored rooster everywhere.
The Portuguese are a strong, family-orientated people. They are fiercely loyal to family members, and no other social relationship can come first. Sundays are a special family day when most people visit the grandparents and enjoy a meal together.
Like many European countries, the cafe culture is a significant part of one’s day. Slowly enjoying an espresso on a terrace is a pleasure not to be missed. Add to that one of Portugal’s famous Pastel de Nata for a delicious morning snack.
Christmas in Portugal
Portugal is a predominately Catholic country, and Christmas or ‘Natal’ is a prime time of the year. Father Christmas brings the children’s presents on Christmas Eve and leaves them under the tree.
The family celebrates with a large feast on Christmas Eve. Codfish features high in these meals served with vegetables and followed by a rich table of many traditional treats, cakes, and cookies. After this meal, families go to church for the Christmas Mass called the Missa do Galo or Mass of the Rooster. After the service, the families return home and open presents. The traditional Christmas cake is called Bolo Rei or King cake, and you will see it sold everywhere. It’s more like a circular bread with candied fruit. On Christmas Day, the family once more shares a meal. It’s a very family-oriented affair, and as an ex-pat, you may not be invited into the family celebrations, but there are restaurants open and serving on Christmas day.
Easter in Portugal
As in Spain, Semana Santa is a week of worship and solemn processions. It is a time of great significance to the Catholic church. Chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies are uncommon as this Holy Week is a time to remember Jesus Christ.