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Religious Holidays in Portugal

Portugal is a country located in the southern part of Europe that shares the Iberian Peninsula at the western tip of the continent with Spain. As far as religion is concerned, the majority of people belong to the Roman Catholic faith. In this article, you will learn about some of the religious holidays celebrated throughout the country.

Easter is a significant religious holiday in Portugal. Various cities throughout the country celebrate their own traditions. In Braga, the Easter festivities (also known as Holy Week) include decorating home and businesses with religious motifs. Street altars (called ‘passos’) are filled with flowers and lights. A main procession called the Ecce Homo Procession takes place on Good Friday, which brings out the lay brothers (with their heads covered) walking in their bare feet. Dressed in purple tunics, they carry torches to symbolize a reenactment of the rites of public penitence and reconciliation , a tradition that dates back to the 16th century.

Easter festivities also bring out some of the best cuisine that follows the fasting of Lent, such as roast kid, lamb stew, meatballs, buns, chocolate and almond eggs.

Other religious observances throughout Portugal include:

The Festival of Our Lady of Anguish takes place in the city of Viana do Castelo, and is usually observed between August 19th and 22nd. Music fills the air with the sound of bass drums. People put on colorful traditional clothing and costumes. Fireworks also play a role in celebrating this holiday.

On the first Sunday in July, the people of Guimarães celebrate the day of the proclamation of the Portuguese nation. The Grand S. Torcato Pilgrimage takes place with a procession that travels along the city streets , playing out the scenes associated with the life of the saint. Later on in the summertime, the Gualterianas Festivals include a procession to honor Saint Gualter.

In the Castelo de Vide region (situated in the south), the Easter celebration includes bits of Jewish traditions. On the morning of Easter Eve, the shepherds of the region gather in the town center to have blessings bestowed upon their flocks of sheep.

The Vigília Pascal (Paschal Vigil) is a time where people ask for forgiveness in secret during the night, which is similar to the traditions of the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. Following mass, those who are present ring cowbells through the town, which marks the Cortejo da Aleluia (Procession of Alleluia).

The Feast of Immaculate Conception Day is a public holiday held in Portugal that celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The holiday is observed on December 8 , after the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on September 8. On this day, daily Catholic masses are held to celebrate Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, who many Portuguese see as their patron saint. Families tend to gather on this day or take advantage of any free time they may have. Local vigils may take place at some parishes.