Holidays and Festivals in Portugal

The Portuguese culture has a special love for color, feasting and celebrations  which is why the country has a dozen statutory holidays and many more festivals. As a mainly Catholic country, most of them are religious in nature but a few commemorate important historical events. In addition, most towns have their own holidays, when there are celebrations in honor of the local patron saint. Here are thus the main holidays and festivals of Portugal and the celebrations they entail.

New Year’s Day

The Portuguese usher in the New Year with fireworks, dancing, drinking and a lot of loud cheering on the night of December 31. The next day though is quieter and is more a time of leisure and relaxation after the indulgences of the New Year’s Eve.


On January 6, Epiphany is celebrated by some places, especially in the Northern regions of Portugal. On this day families come tougher to eat Bolo-Rei literally, King Cake which is a cake made with crystallized fruits.  The cake has an added specialty – it is usually baked with a lucky charm or a beam inside and tradition has it that the person who finds the bean has to buy the next year’s cake. Epiphany is also the time for the traditional street songs like "As Janeiras" or The January ones.


Carnival is held on the day before Lent begins and is the final occasion of partying before the onset of austerities. In Portugal, this period is called "Entrudo". Some traditional carnivals in Portugal date back several centuries. Loulé, Alcobaça, Mealhada and above all Ovar in Portugal hold several days of festivities, with parades, music, dancing and all-round revelries which apart from merry-making also include social criticism in the form of street plays and parodies.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week which is known in Portugal as Semana Santa. On this day many parishes hold processions commemorating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Parish priests also visit people at home and children give their godparents flowers. Domingo de Ramos is celebrated the Sunday before Easter Sunday. This festival is celebrated in remembrance of the offer made to Jesus Christ by his followers, when Christ came down the Olivetrees Hill, after having stayed there, in solitude, for 40 days in meditation.

Over the Holy Week, some places may take out other processions, carrying the statues of Jesus and Mary. Good Friday marks the day when Jesus was nailed to the Cross and is thus a solemn occasion which is observed with fasting, prayers and reflection. In some Portuguese cities and towns, processions are taken out on this day that re-enact the Passion of Christ.

Easter Day

Known as Pascoa in Portugal, Easter is a time of celebration and joyousness as this day marks the resurrection of Christ. On this day people attend mass at church in the mornings and follow it with a family get together over a special meal whose highlight is the Pão-de-Ló, an Easter cake.  Easter eggs are other specialties of this occasion and children are given chocolate Easter eggs as well as bunnies. In Portugal, Easter also marks the start of the bullfighting season.

Liberation Day

April 25 is celebrated in Portugal as Liberation Day. Parades and processions are taken out on this day which commemorates the peaceful 1975 Carnation Revolution that transformed the country from an authoritarian dictatorship to democracy

Labor Day

This is another public holiday to honor the rights of labourers across the country and the world. Observed on May 1, this day involves speeches, processions and campaigns for the protection of labor rights.

Corpus Christi

Like in other Roman Catholic cultures, Corpus Christi is an important religious festival and is observed with special services in churches as well as processions through towns.

National Day

Portugal's National Day takes place on the 10th of June. This day celebrates Portugal's independence, as well as, its national poet, Luís Vaz de Camões, who told the epic story of the nautical discoveries in 'Os Lusíadas' in 1572 and sang praises of the Portuguese people and the national character. As such, this day is also known as Camoes Day and is celebrated throughout Portugal with various cultural events with traditional celebrations.

Summer festivities

Through the month of June feasts are held in honor of three saints known as Santos Populares, or popular saints, all over Portugal. The reason for the association of these saints with what are clearly pagan festivities in origin is not clear – it is possible that the practice is related to Roman or local deities before Christianity spread into the region. The three saints are Saint Anthony, Saint John and Saint Peter. A common feature in these festivities are the wine and água-pé (a watered kind of wine), traditional bread along with sardines, marriages, traditional street dances, bonfires and celebration with fireworks. The Feast of Saint Anthony is celebrated on the 13th, mainly in Lisbon and that of Saint John is held on the 24th, especially in Porto and Braga, where sardines, Caldo Verde (traditional soup) and plastic hammers to hammer on other peoples' heads for luck are unique customs. The final saint is Saint Peter, celebrated on the nights of 28th and 29th, especially in Póvoa de Varzim and Barcelos; while most festivities are similar to the others, here they are closely related to the sea and extensive use of fire. Each festivity is a municipal holiday in the cities and towns where it occurs.

The Feast of the Assumption

This feast day in Portugal is observed on August 15 with religious ceremonies and church services, especially in the north of the country.

Proclamation of the Republic Day

Another nationalist holiday in Portugal is the Proclamation of the Republic Day which is observed on October 5. This day commemorates the founding of Portugal’s first republican government in 1910.

All Saints’ Day

Like in most Christian cultures, All Saints’ Day is an important religious occasion in Portugal too. On the first day of November, people light candles in churches and place flowers on the graves of their departed relations. The occasion is even more solemn since this is also the anniversary of the fatal Lisbon Earthquake of 1775.
Another festival in November is Saint Martin Day, celebrated on November 11. This day is the peak of three days, often with very good weather, which is known as Verão de São Martinho or "Saint Martin summer". In Portugal, this is celebrated with jerupiga, a sweet liqueur wine, and roasted Portuguese chestnuts, castanhas assadas, and is also known as Magusto.

Restoration of Independence Day

December 1 is observed as Restoration of Independence Day in Portugal since it was on this day I 1640 that the country regained its independence from Spain.

The Feast of Immaculate Conception

This religious occasion which falls on December 8, is a public holiday in Portugal and is marked by special services in churches as well as traditional ceremonies.


The last major religious festival in the year is Christmas which celebrates the birth of Jesus on December 25. Preparations begin with town centers putting up Christmas illuminations as well as families putting up a Christmas tree at home. It is also common to set up a nativity scene known as presepio in Portugal. On Christmas Eve, the faithful attend midnight mass at churches also known as the miso do galo which is followed by a meal at home. The main feasting however comes the next day when families gather around an elaborate lunch on Christmas day. In Portugal the festive lunch traditionally features cod – bacalhau - and perhaps turkey, followed by rich desserts and sweet pastries. On this day, people drink Port wine and share gifts. Christmas is primarily a family affair and is spent in visiting relations and friends.