So Many Holidays
How many holidays can one country have?
Since moving to Portugal I have become fascinated by their holidays. First, is the fact that there are so many. I also find it interesting that there are many religious (i.e. Catholic) holidays in a country that does not have an official religion. The last three weeks of June are a perfect example of this.
Holidays, their number, and the fact that so many were tied to the Catholic church have been a point of contention throughout Portugal’s history. In fact, immediately following the establishment of the First Republic (1910) the Provisional Government canceled 14 religious holidays. Instead, they instituted only five very secular “bank holidays”. They also decreed that each municipality could create one additional holiday.
In 1911, Lisbon nominated 10 June as Camões Day, celebrating the date the most famous Portuguese poet died. In 1929, the military dictatorship announced that this date would become both Camōes Day and Portugal Day. Salazar later took this date one step further, calling it also Dia da Raça (Portuguese Day of the Race) which was a time to celebrate Portugal’s overseas territories…a great nation, with global spread, a common race, and language. As the wars in Africa heated up, it became a time for military parades and to honor the fallen heroes.
Following the Carnation Revolution, the holiday returned to its roots and formally became Portugal Day, though some refer to it still as Camões Day or Portuguese Communities Day. This year it happened to be on a Friday and kicked off a long weekend of celebrations.
When I began to see the decorations going up in the town square I started to do some research. It must be for Portugal Day, I thought. Then a Portuguese resident told me it was to celebrate the beginning of summer. Hoping to learn more, I went on the local municipality website1. There I found the image above, and a series of events listed for that weekend and the following two. It appears that VRSA celebrates all the popular saints starting with Santo Antonio.
Santo Antonio is often referred to as the patron saint of Lisbon…so this holiday is a very big thing there as well. Here it included some food huts erected in the town square, and concerts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. (Permit me to digress, ie. complain: All of these events are scheduled at 22:00. And given the fact that start times are always a rough approximation, it is likely to begin closer to 22:30. As such, while Denise and I have tried to force ourselves to participate we have failed. Given that our future home is one block off the square, I suspect that we will hear future concerts from our rooftop or more likely from the comfort of our bed.)
VRSA is among the many Algarve towns that continue its weekend celebrations with concerts and parades to celebrate St John and St Peter. Perhaps the most unusual party occurs in Porto on the last weekend of the month when locals hit each other over the head with garlic or plastic hammers.
Corpo de Deus / Corpo de Cristo
And then we have Corpo de Deus. I learned about this holiday when the director of the facility where we are now playing pickleball told us the club would be closed on 16 June because it was a national holiday.
“Another holiday?” I asked. “Sim”
“What is it?” “Corpo de Deus”, he responded.
While I was a religion major, I was not raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, so more research was required. I learned that it is celebrated 60 days after Easter (so between 21 May and 24 June). It seems that there are processions through the streets and a “mandatory” eucharist at noon2. Like many holidays in Portugal, it has had its ups and downs. Specifically, it was an official holiday until 2013 when it was withdrawn, but restored in 2016.
So are we celebrating summer … the most prosperous time of year in Algarve? Perhaps we are celebrating various popular saints? It could be yet another celebration for a country with a long and storied history? Frankly, I have lost track…but I am certain there will be lots of food, wine, and music to help the party along.
Helpful note: every municipality has a website that includes a calendar of events. Just enter “cm-name of town.pt”. Eg; cm-vrsa.pt or cm-tavira.pt.
While researching this post I took time to ask the receptionist at our golf club a question as she was working on Corpo de Deus. I asked if Jews or Muslims are permitted to substitute their religious holidays for the many Christian ones. I learned there is not a formal, governmental policy to promote this practice. As a Catholic-raised now agnostic she felt such a policy was very much overdue.