Easter is one of the most important times of the year in Portugal, surpassed only by Christmas. This is a very sacred and intense celebration due to its symbolism in an overall very religious population.
With around 80 percent of Catholic population, Roman Catholic traditions prevail. It is a time for praying and attending Church more regularly than ever, since despite being a very devoted country, most people are not active practitioners.
That is why Holy Week is, in Portugal, a time of high Catholic significance, with several traditions typical of this time of the year.
Lots of people take advantage of the long weekend to book some holidays and enjoy some days across the country or even abroad. However, at home or traveling, the Easter Sunday is a family day, where everyone gets together to have a special lunch, with the star delicacy being a roast lamb or “cabrito”, a baby goat meat that is very common throughout the country this time of the year.
Regardless of religious beliefs, Sunday is a family celebration, a day of commemoration and Resurrection.
But there are a total of five main days to take into consideration when celebrating Easter in Portugal.
The first one, Palm Sunday, is the Sunday before Easter, where processions are common because they portrait Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. On this day is also common for grandchildren to offer their grandparents flowers or sweets, a practice to be returned on the next Sunday.
Normally, the godparents offer chocolates, sweets or some money to the kids on Easter Sunday. This tradition ended up extending to other family members and friends, so, religious or not, it is usual to offer chocolate almonds or similar treats this time of the year.
Then there’s the Maundy Thursday, when ceremonies picture the Last Supper and the “foot-washing”, where, in some places, an Archbishop washes the feet of twelve people, representing the twelve apostles.
The Good Friday is a day of extreme importance for Easter celebrations since this was the day of Jesus’ death and crucifixion. It is a day of penitence when the most religious do not allow themselves to eat meat. Being two days before Sunday Easter, the “Good Friday” is also a holiday in Portugal, a day when the tradition to not eat meat or completely fast is most emphasized and it’s usual to prefer the traditional salted cod or fish in general for that day’s meals.
The fourth moment, known as the Holy Saturday, is the last day before Easter and the day when Jesus’ body remained buried in the tomb, meaning it is the last moment of introspection and reflection, preparing the Easter celebrations the next day.
After Lent, the period of fasting and introspecting between Carnival and Easter, the Easter Sunday finally arrives and it is celebrated as a day of happiness, of family reunions and tables plenty of food, all this to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus.
As we mentioned above, it is normal to eat Easter traditional meat dishes on this day, like the roasted lamb or goat with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Another very typical dish is the “folar”, a kind of bread that varies widely from town to town, and that can be sweet (normally with fennel, aniseed or cinnamon) or salty, made with different kinds of meat. The “folar” represents the bread in the Last Supper, the friendship and reconciliation.
Here are also widely consumed the almonds covered in chocolate or many other different toppings and chocolate eggs and bunnies, a tradition that was imported from the United States and that represents life and fertility.
Across the country, the traditions vary, with many towns having their own celebrations, especially in the countryside areas, where they are more intense and more religious. The religious rituals and traditions are also stronger in the north, like in the city of Braga.
Easter ends the reflection time and the beginning of a new era of prosperity, with all its symbols representing this passage, and gastronomy playing an important role.