Easter is only a few days away. And Portugal is a country with many traditions linked to that moment of the liturgical year.
In all regions of the country, various religious events take place throughout the holy week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. In some cities, certain rituals are featured, but these same rituals can occur in several locations at the same time.
One of the most valued Easter rituals in Portugal is the Compass Pascal, performed over 500 years ago. The streets are taken by small religious groups who leave the churches with a cross and go through the houses to bless them.
The faithful who wish to receive the blessing, leave the door of the house open, with flower petals at the entrance and, if they wish, with offers of snacks. The priest rings a bell on the way to warn of the approaching procession. As he passes by, he stops at the doors of the houses with the cross so that it can be kissed by the residents, and makes the house a blessing with holy water.
In Braga, in the North, the image of Our Lady is carried by a donkey, in the Procession of the Burrinha. The city is adorned with flowers, lights, incense, motifs depicting the court and purple bands.
On Good Friday the Procession of the Burial of the Lord takes place, whose protagonists are brotherhoods, knights of the Sovereign Orders of Malta and the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Capitulars of the See, various corporations and authorities. Everyone’s head is covered in mourning. This is the most solemn procession, for it carries the little boat of the dead Lord.
Procession of Flowers in the Algarve
In São Brás de Alportel, in the Algarve, Easter Sunday in Portugal is marked by the Hallelujah Procession, in honor of Christ’s resurrection. The men and boys make two parallel rows on the sides of the carpet decorated in the center of the street, and carry torches of colorful flowers in their hands.
Blessing of lambs (sheep) in the Alentejo
In Castelo de Vide, in the Alentejo, in addition to Easter processions in Portugal, the population accompanies the Benção dos Borregos, which takes place on Saturday in Hallelujah. This blessing was formerly used to protect the abundance of cattle breeders, and today it still symbolizes the spirit of coexistence between different peoples and cultures.
Before that event on Hallelujah Saturday, there is the Blessing of the Branches and the Procession of the Lord’s Steps, on Palm Sunday. On Holy Thursday, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. On Good Friday the Mass of the Lord’s Passion is celebrated, and in the evening the Procession of the Burial of the Lord is done, as in Braga.
Then, another traditional rite is Chocalhada, which occurs at night, when people gather in Lageado with rattles to emit a characteristic noise that serves as a prayer during the Hallelujah Procession.
Butler of the Cross dinner in Minho
In some parishes (municipalities) in the Minho region, such as Viana do Castelo and Ponte de Lima, in addition to the traditional events mentioned above, it is common to have the Butler of the Cross Dinner. It is a banquet for all the people of that parish or neighborhood, where a butler is elected to carry the cross and pay everyone’s lunch.
Burial of Cod in Beiras
The Burial of Bacalhau is a funeral procession full of meaning at Easter in Portugal and of great cultural value. The first time it happened was in 1938, but the religious authorities were not in favor, as it meant a protest.
This tradition goes back to the 16th century, when the church completely banned meat consumption during Lent, except for the more affluent. Thus, the poor only had the option of eating fish, and cod was the most affordable of all.
So this pagan festival was created – which has a comedy tone, like a revolt by the poorest for their impotence before the authority of the church. The procession has three sermons: Life and Death of Cod, Testament of Cod and the Exéquias of Cod, which occur to the sound of Chopin’s funeral symphony.
Typical Easter food in Portugal
The Easter Folar that can be sweet or salty. This is one of the most traditional dishes that represents the typical Easter food in Portugal.
In the Minho:As in practically the entire North, in Minho it is common to end the Lenten fast with meat. Then, in addition to the kid, meat balls and meat leaf are consumed, both made with a dough filled with different meats.
In the Douro: One of the most popular main dishes in this region is the beef tenderloin, called the Easter loin, at this time of year. In addition to this meat, roast kid is very popular.
In the Beiras: In this region, the two most consumed meat dishes on Easter Sunday are roast suckling pig and cod, which occurs after the procession of Enterro do Bacalhau.