In a few days it will be Christmas and a tradition that many families respect is that of the Christmas tree. But how was this tradition born? And how did you arrive in Portugal?
In the past, the Catholic Church did not celebrate Christmas, although it celebrated the birth of Jesus
It was in the 6th century with Pope Julius I that the date of Jesus’ birth was set for December 25, and we began to celebrate this feast.
Long before, for the Romans, it was the day of Saturnalia, festivals dedicated to the god Saturn and the winter solstice celebrated by the Celts and the Germanic peoples. That was how an old pagan festival became the biggest Christian festival.
But we are talking about the Christmas tree, which in Portugal, next to the nativity, cannot be missing.
This tradition is almost mandatory in all houses and is usually prepared between the 1st and the 8th of December.
In reality the tradition already existed at the time of the Romans who prepared firs for Saturnais.
The first Christmas trees were decorated with paper, dried fruits and cakes
According to history, the tree must be a pine tree due to its triangular shape that represents the Trinity for Christians. The first reference to the Christmas tree is in 1510, in Lithuania, attributed to Luther who would have decorated a tree with candles and a star.
And in the 16th century, this tradition already present in Germany and Germany passed to all of Europe and arrived in Portugal in the 19th century.
In 1835, as D. Maria II widowed months after his first marriage to Prince Augusto de Beauharnais, he was chosen to be the new husband of the sovereign D Fernando de Saxe Coburgo Gotha.
D Fernando II and D Maria II had a happy marriage crowned by 11 children (the queen died in giving birth to the last child). He introduced romanticism to Portugal, he is known for his taste for literature and art and for the construction of the Pena Palace in Sintra. But it was also he who introduced the Christmas tree in Portugal.
In 1844 he decided to surprise his family and prepared a Christmas tree decorated with colored balls and cakes and gifts next to the tree. From there the tradition of the tree was introduced in Portugal.
A curiosity: Each Christmas, D Fernando gave gifts to his children dressed as Saint Nicholas. Her cousin, Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband in England) did exactly the same for her family in England.
The Cantarinha of Guimarães’ is a gift widely offered by the time of São Valentim, thus keeping an old tradition alive which is currently fed by the hands of masters of the pottery.
According to tradition, when a boy was ready to make the official marriage proposal, he first offered his girl a cantarinha, molded in clay. If the gift was accepted, the private request was formalized, and the announcement of the engagement depended only on the parents’ wishes. Once the consent was given, the cantarinha then served to keep the gifts that the groom and the bride’s parents offered, namely gold pieces.
Currently, the cantarinha are no longer properly used to ask someone for a hand or to store jewelry, but are assumed to be “guardians” of secrets and love stories. “Whoever offers them, does so because of the symbolism they contain”, is made of red clay sprinkled with white mica.
There are the big Cantarinhas, symbol of abundance, of the future, of hope. And the small Cantarinha, symbol of real life, of the uncertainties of the future and the small happiness of everyday life.
The Cantarinha was used, as well as valentine’s handkerchiefs, (October 14th article) as a symbol of acceptance or rejection of a dating / engagement request. If there was parental consent, the engagement was announced and the dowry treated, and the gifts offered to the bride and groom were placed in Cantarinha (gold cords, trancelets, crosses, hearts). Another version says that raffles were placed inside Cantarinha. The girl then took one at random that corresponded to a gift. Cantarinha of lovers is the most common name, but two more are added: Cantarinha of the gifts and Cantarinha of Guimarães.
In addition to its significance as a matchmaking object, which is its great attribute, Cantarinha dos Namorados is also a pottery product of excellence in terms of Portuguese handicrafts. Made of red clay baked for seven hours, and ornamented with small flourishes, there is an undeniable elegance when we look at it, and we understand why the girls who received this artifact in their hands melt.
It is made up of three parts: the base singlet, clearly larger, representing the couple’s prosperity; the little song that overlaps this one, noticeably smaller, symbolizing the problems that any pair of newlyweds or couples have to face; and finally, the shot is made with a bird, which some say is the secret keeper of the relationship.
Nossa Senhora da Nazaré is an image carved in wood, about 25 cm high, representing the Virgin Mary sitting on a low bench breastfeeding the Baby Jesus, with the faces and hands painted in a “dark” color. According to oral tradition, it was sculpted by St. Joseph when Jesus was still a baby, with faces and hands painted, decades later, by St. Luke. She is venerated at the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, at Sítio da Nazaré, in Portugal.
The history of the image was published in 1609, for the first time, by Frei Bernardo de Brito, in the book Lusitanian Monarchy. This monk from Alcobaça, chronicler of Portugal, reports that he found a territorial donation from 1182 in his monastery registry, which included the history of the image, which was venerated in the early days of Christianity in Nazareth in Galilee, his hometown. From Maria. Hence the invocation of Nossa Senhora – da Nazaré. From Galilee, it was brought, in the fifth century, to a convent near Mérida, in Spain, and from there, in 711 to the Sítio (of Our Lady) of Nazaré, where it continues to be venerated.
The story of this image is inseparable from the miracle that saved D. Fuas Roupinho, in 1182, an episode that was conventionally called “the Legend of Nazaré”.
During the Middle Ages, hundreds of images of Black Virgins appeared throughout Europe, most of which, like this one, were carved in wood, of small dimensions and linked to a miraculous legend. Today, there are about four hundred of these images, ancient or their replicas, in churches across Europe, as well as some more recent ones in the rest of the world.
The true and sacred image of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré has not yet been subjected to a laboratory test to date it scientifically and in parallel to obtain confirmation of being in front of a bi-millenary image, or of a replica produced later.
Legend of Nazaré tells that at dawn on September 14, 1182, D. Fuas Roupinho, mayor of the castle of Porto de Mós, hunted along the coast, surrounded by a dense fog, close to his lands, when he saw a deer that immediately started chasing. The deer headed for the top of a cliff. D. Fuas, in the fog, isolated himself from his companions. When he realized that he was on the top of the cliff, on the edge of the cliff, in danger of death, he recognized the place. He was right next to a cave where an image of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus was venerated. He then pleaded, out loud: Our Lady, Help me! Immediately, the horse miraculously stopped, sticking its paws in the rocky boulder suspended over the void, the Beak of Miracle, thus saving the rider and his mount from certain death that would result from a fall of more than one hundred meters.
D. Fuas dismounted and went down to the cave to pray and thank the miracle. Then he sent his companions to call bricklayers to build a chapel over the grotto, in memory of the miracle, the Hermitage of Memory, to be exposed there to the miraculous image of the faithful. Before the cave was trapped, the masons undid the altar there and among the stones, unexpectedly, they found an ivory safe containing some relics and a parchment, in which the relics were identified as being from São Brás and São Bartolomeu and the story was told of the small image representing the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1377, King D. Fernando (1367-1383), due to the significant influx of pilgrims, ordered the construction of a church, near the chapel, to which the image of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré was transferred. of origin, the village of Nazaré in Galilee.
The popularity of this devotion at the time of the Discoveries was so great among the people of the sea, that both Vasco da Gama, before and after his first trip to India, and Pedro Álvares Cabral, came on a pilgrimage to Sítio da Nazaré. Among the many pilgrims of the Royal family, we highlight Queen D. Leonor of Austria, third wife of King D. Manuel I, sister of Emperor Charles V, future Queen of France, who stayed at the Site for a few days, in 1519, in an accommodation of wood built especially for this occasion. Also S. Francisco Xavier, Jesuit priest, the Apostle of the East, came on a pilgrimage to Nazaré before leaving for Goa. In fact, the Portuguese Jesuits were the main propagators of this cult on all continents.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the cult of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré was widely disseminated in Portugal and in the Portuguese Empire. Even today, some replicas of the true image are venerated and there are several churches and chapels dedicated to this invocation around the world. It is worth mentioning the image of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, which is venerated in Belém do Pará, Brazil, whose annual party was named Círio de Nazaré and is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, reaching two million pilgrims in one day.
In Portugal, there are two matchmaking saints. One with its throne in Lisbon which is Santo António, and the other located to the north, S. Gonçalo de Amarante. In order to avoid unfair competition between the two, Santo António takes care of the younger women, while S. Gonçalo deals with the “old”. This is the popular belief, but it is not just for this reason that the church of São Gonçalo is a mandatory stop.
S. Gonçalo has the honor of Padroeiro de Amarante and his memory is celebrated on two occasions during the year: the 10th of January, the date of his death, and the first weekend of June, with the great festivities of the city.
Coming from the noble family of Pereira, Gonçalo was born in Paço de Arriconha, around 1187 and inherits from his parents nobility in blood and greatness in Faith.
He is educated in good Christian principles and, when he reaches his youth, he opts for ecclesiastical life, studying the first letters, it is believed, in the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Pombeiro de Ribavizela, that he continued his studies at the Paço Arcebispal de Braga, where he would become ordained priest. Not satisfied with his parish life and burning with the desire to visit the most holy places of Christianity, he decided to start a long pilgrimage to Rome, to be with the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and then on to Palestine.
After fourteen years, Gonçalo returns to his parish of S. Paio de Vizela, which, during his absence, was directed by a nephew who, not recognizing him, expelled him from home. Disillusioned by the opulent and lavish life of his replacement and faced with disrespect for Christian teachings and humility, he decides to abandon the parish life and opts for a more contemplative, hermitic and evangelizing modus vivendi. Take the habit of the Order of S. Domingos.
It was through this new way of life that it reached the Tâmega valley. Facing a ruined hermitage dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Assunção, located in a deserted place, next to the river and close to a vacant bridge, the old temple is installed and restored.
Bordering the villages of the Tâmega valley and Serra do Marão, Frei Gonçalo evangelizes and blesses marital unions, supports and protects the most disadvantaged and performs some wonders, which give him an aura of sanctity. In the course of these pastoral actions, he is faced with the difficulties and the danger that his faithful ran when venturing to cross the river, especially at times when it presented more flow and, in the absence of alternatives, he decides to undertake, himself, the restoration or rebuilding of the old Roman bridge, back in 1250.
For its reconstruction it will have had the participation of everyone, from the wealthiest who contributed some money and raw material and the poorest who, with their effort, carried out the work. The architect is said to have been the saint himself. The medieval bridge would last until February 10, 1763, when it succumbs to the turbulence of the waters of the Tâmega, during a flood, collapsing completely.
After the construction of the bridge and the restoration of traffic, the Dominican friar continued his life as a preacher until the day of his death, which occurred on January 10, 1259.
From then on, many were the ones who came to his tomb, installed in the same chapel where he lived to ask or thank his intercession, next to his remains.
In 1540, D. João III ordered to build, in the place of the old medieval hermitage, a convent that delivers to the friars preachers of S. Domingos, Order to which the Saint was linked.
On September 16, 1561, Gonçalo de Amarante was beatified by Pope Pius IV and, some time later, in the reign of D. Filipe I of Portugal (II of Spain), his canonization process began, which ended for having no effect.
Pope Clement X, in 1671, extends the service of his liturgical feast to the entire Dominican Order, which is celebrated on the day of his death, on 10 January.
Since then, his cult has never stopped spreading and spreading in Portugal and in the Portuguese-speaking countries, especially Brazil, where several localities have him as their patron.
So São Gonçalo is not a saint. For the Catholic Church, Blessed Gonçalo de Amarante is considered blessed. But for the population it is holy and devotion to it is not less, whatever the denomination used. His tomb, where his body is believed to be buried, can be visited in the main chapel of the monastery.
São Gonçalo is considered the “matchmaker of the old women”, which does not seem to please the younger ones who do not want to wait, and that is why the famous popular court of Amarante was born:
S. Gonçalo de Amarante,
Matchmaker of the old women,
Why don’t you marry the new ones?
What harm did they do to you?
In the church, there is still the statue of São Gonçalo, from the 16th century, in which there is the famous rope of São Gonçalo. The rope surrounds the statue’s waist and, according to popular belief, “the old women” should pull the rope three times to ask the saint for a wedding.
In conclusion, if you have passed the age to ask for help from Santo Antonio, here you have the wedding prayer for São Gonçalo:
“São Gonçalo do Amarante, Matchmaker you are, First couples to me; The other couples later.
São Gonçalo help me, On my knees I beg you, Make me marry soon, With the one I adore.
A curiosity: ”São Gonçalo de Amarante is rooted in the culture of the city Princess of Tâmega, with peculiar sweets with phallic forms, with spicy courts that and a rich history of conquests and important heroic acts in the construction of the history of Portugal. According to popular legend, São Gonçalo is a matchmaker and it is for this reason that during feasts S. Gonçalo’s “phallic sweets” are sold and appreciated, of all sizes and shapes.
The Minho region, in the north of Portugal, is known for the quality of its embroidery, so it is not surprising that it was the place where the tradition of the Valentine’s Handkerchief began.
It is said that in the past, Minho girls of marriageable age used to embroider their trousseau, but between one piece and the other, they secretly embroidered a small square, usually with love verses and some drawings.
This Handkerchief was kept with her until she had the opportunity to get him to the boy she loved. This usually happened at Sunday Masses, when she “absentmindedly” dropped him next to the boy. After embroidery, the scarf was given to the boyfriend and the fact that he used it publicly or not, that the courtship was decided. If he accepted, he would put the scarf over his Sunday coat, put it around his neck with the knot facing forward, wear it on the brim of his hat.
Otherwise, the scarf would return to the girl’s hands. If by chance, he accepted, but later changed his partner, he brought the scarf, and other objects that belonged to him, such as photographs, letters, to his former intended.
The scarves represent the girl’s feeling towards the boy, in which she writes small verses of love, or symbols.
The peak of this practice was between 1850 and 1950, especially in the cities of Viana do Castelo, Guimarães, Vila Verde, Telões and Aboim da Nóbrega. The writing was marked by spelling errors, since, for the most part, the girls who embroidered them were from humble families and with few studies.
Today the valentine’s scarf has become a funny souvenir and some older ones, when not family heirlooms, are on display in museums.
Basically the Valentine’s Handkerchief is a handkerchief made from a fine linen cloth or cotton scarf, embroidered with various motifs.
We often notice spelling errors in these handkerchiefs, which denounce the lack of education at the time.
Being embroidered with a cross stitch, these handkerchiefs were very laborious and time consuming, forcing the “embroiderer” to be very patient and careful in making them. Over time, other types of stitches that were easier and faster to embroider have been adopted. With this change the initial decoration of the scarves changes, the original colours of black and red, will give rise to a series of other colours and other decorative motifs. However, the main objective is never lost.
It is believed that it was from these handkerchiefs that the much larger Wedding Handkerchiefs appeared later on, that the bride wore on her head, or that wrapped the bouquet, as well as the pouches worn at the waist embroidered with beads and velvet ribbons.
Fortunately, this heritage has not been forgotten and, today, it remains one of the symbols of Portuguese culture and tradition.
Swallows are birds that, despite their small size, travel thousands of kilometres to nest. Every year, following an instinct, they fly from North Africa to Portugal and stay until the end of summer. This little flying animal is very dear to the Portuguese because they are the prelude to spring and good weather.
They are birds associated not only with good weather, but with home. Due to its ability to raise its offspring, the Portuguese see this bird as an example of all that the best nature can bring.
The passion is such that the Portuguese hang replicas of flocks of swallows on the walls of their houses as a sign of calm.
This national connection to this black-winged bird is due to Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro who, at the end of the 19th century, produced small ceramic swallows at his factory in Caldas da Rainha and which he himself had designed.
It was he who in 1891 hung ceramic swallows on the telephone wires that decorate the wonderful Tabacaria Mónaco, even today at Rossio in Lisbon (and looking up, on the ceiling, there is also a flock of them painted flying). They spread happily throughout the country throughout the 20th century. Swallows are said to be symbols of love and loyalty, but also of home and family, feelings that are well rooted in Portuguese culture. After long-haul flights looking for milder climates, swallows build their nest in the same place year after year. They are also creatures that, throughout their lives, have a single partner.
Embedded in such meaning, the ceramic swallows of Bordalo Pinheiro and other representations of this bird are commonly exchanged between people in love, enhancing their connotation with feelings of love, loyalty, home and family.
They are also the meaning of harmony and happiness in the homes where they are hung.