Despite both festivities being a sweet celebration for Portuguese children, All Saints’ Day is a century-old tradition…
Halloween's traditions are gaining more and more fans in Portugal, despite not being a traditional celebration. If you look around, at this time of the year Portuguese shops everywhere are filled with Halloween costumes and decorations.
Until a few years ago, pumpkin carving and trick or treating were only part of the Portuguese children's imagination through television and films. But now Halloween is here to stay and Portuguese children love all of its traditions, especially the candy and an excuse to play a few harmless tricks!
In places such as Porto, Lisbon or Algarve, where this is a growing expat community in Portugal, don't be surprised if a few witches, vampires and skeletons come knocking on your door on the eve of October 31st.
However, in more rural areas of Portugal, Halloween costumes will probably only be used in school because of English classes. The more traditional "Pão por Deus" (bread for God's sake), celebrated on the following day, is the preferred way of asking for treats in most of the country and has been for centuries... despite the similarities with Halloween.
Contrary to what many people may believe, Halloween did not originate in the United States but in Europe, with pagan traditions that marked the end of the harvest season. Centuries ago, the "Samhain" — Gaelic word that would later give origin to the English version "Halloween" — was celebrated by the Celtics, particularly in Scotland and Ireland. Rituals included offering food to the dead and knocking on neighbour's doors wearing masks and costumes.
The tradition of honouring the dead spread all over Europe and was later adopted by the Catholic Church, as with other pagan rituals. Pope Gregory IV decided this holy day should also be celebrated on November 1st, as was the pagan tradition. Although the origin is the same, All Saints' Day has different rituals around the world and in Portugal, some are unique.
As in many other Roman Catholic countries, the 1st of November is well respected by Portuguese believers. Being a national holiday in Portugal, many families will go to the cemetery and decorate the graves of their departed loved ones.
If you visit a Portuguese cemetery these days, you'll see beautifully decorated tombstones adorned with flowers. Bouquets and pots of yellow, pink, and white chrysanthemums are sold at cemetery doors and at local markets.
Lit candles are also left on the tombstones and kept alight during the night before the Day of the Dead (in Portuguese "Dia dos Fiéis Defuntos" or "Dia de Finados"), celebrated on November 2nd.
All Saints' Day in Portugal is also celebrated with children knocking door to door and asking for "Pão por Deus". Although this tradition has some similarities to Halloween, major differences are that children only go on the morning of November 1st and do not use masks or costumes.
Traditionally, children visit neighbours' houses in groups with patchwork cloth bags and knock on doors singing different verses depending on the region of Portugal. In some parts of the country, "Pão por Deus" is called "Bolinho" or "Santoro" and children receive traditional sweetbreads, apples, pomegranates, walnuts, chestnuts or other seasonal fruits and nuts.
More recently, and with the introduction of Halloween traditions in Portugal, some friendly neighbours might also offer candy, chocolates or even money!
As with all Portuguese celebrations, during this holiday families join together around a table filled with food. Dried figs coated with powdered sugar, walnuts, roasted chestnuts, and sweetbread made with raisins, almonds and honey are just some traditional foods served.
If you have a property in Portugal and will be here during All Saints' Day holiday, you can find all the typical items of this season in any supermarket or in your local farmers market:
In the Silver Coast of Portugal, there is an outdoor market in Caldas da Rainha which is among the most famous in the country. In the Algarve, there's also a wide variety of local markets where we suggest buying this region's delicious honey or figs!
If a neighbour invites you to participate in their All Saints' Day celebration, don't hesitate to join them!
The Portuguese's hospitality and generosity will make you feel at home and there's always room for one more at the table! You don't even need to bring anything, but if you'd like to thank them for the invitation a bottle of wine or a snack is a gesture that will surely be appreciated.
No matter how you choose to celebrate Halloween or All Saints' Day, it’s wonderful to know that Portugal embraces tradition with the same enthusiasm its people welcome new customs!
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