The normally conservative and polite Portuguese have plenty of occasions to let their hair down and celebrate throughout the year. Each community has both its own patron saint and saint’s day celebrated with church processions, dancing, music, wine, and fireworks. Another typical festival in Portugal is called a sarau, a sporting or cultural event where participants paint, play music, read poetry, or express themselves artistically. While most celebrations are religious in nature, no Portugal holiday is livelier than Carnaval in February.
One of Portugal’s most famous exports to its largest former colony, Brazil, Portugal’s Carnaval may not be as well known as their Brazilian or Caribbean counterparts, but they nonetheless rank among the world’s most unforgettable parties. Each community celebrates in its own way, but none is bigger than in Lisbon’s Parque Nações, whose street parades and theatrical performances are filled with elaborate costumes, masks and floats which take several weeks to build. The Algarve celebrates Carnaval by sailing carefully decorated traditional Portuguese boats along the coast.
The most elaborate of Portugal’s many Holy Week processions takes place in Braga, whose streets are lined with religious motifs, as well as alters lined with flowers and lights called passos. After parades filled with floats and torchbearers arrive in the parish church, the priest enters on a floor strewn with flowers on Easter Sunday. Folk dancing and fireworks are lively additions to these solemn religious occasions.
None of the monthly pilgrimages to Portugal’s Our Lady of Fatima sanctuary is larger than the ones which take place on the anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s appearance at this sacred shine. Between the evenings of May 11 and May 13, thousands of faithfuls attend mass in many languages, Stations of the Cross and candlelit processions where spectators wave white handkerchiefs during their farewells to the mother of Jesus.
Festa de Sao Joao
On June 23-24, St. John the Baptist is honored in several citites around Portugal. The people of Porto hit each other on the head with plastic hammers, while Braga’s festivities are filled with folk dramas, illuminations, processions, and poems written in basil pots that are dedicated to loved ones.
Between June and July, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra hosts some of the finest ballet dancers, pianists and chamber musicians during this cultural celebration. Past performers have played for the likes of Paris’ chamber philharmonic and Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Orchestra. Former palaces, churches, parks, and country estates are among the festival’s stately venues.
Praia Grande Beach Games
Portugal’s unofficial water sports capital, Praia Grande, hosts this summer-long event open to beachgoers of all ages and athletic abilities. Every year between June and August, some of the world’s best body boarders tackle the challenging Atlantic Ocean waves. Visitors can also participate in boules and volleyball matches, or simply enjoy the spectacle beneath the shade of nearby café bars.
National Agricultural Fair
The province of Ribatejo forms the heart of Portugal’s agriculture industry and each year, the capital, Santarém, celebrates their proud heritage and bullfighting traditions during this 10-day June event. Farmers from across Europe display machinery and livestock at the agriculture fair and Portuguese folk dancing and singing are on display.
Cascais Festival of the Sea
For 10 days in late August, the fishermen’s association of Cascais hosts the seaside São João do Estoril Beach festival. One of the most unusual competitions involves young fishermen who try to impress female spectators by facing running bulls for a dried codfish prize. Visitors will see many other marine themed events during the day, as well as impressive fireworks displays at night.