Friday, May 24, 2024

Easter in Portugal 2024: Holy Week traditions and celebrations

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The first things that come to mind for many when Easter is mentioned are chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies, and while these things are popular in Portugal too, Easter, known as “Páscoa” in Portuguese, has a much more traditional meaning. Portugal traditionally celebrates Holy Week (Semana Santa), with festivities starting on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter Sunday. So, how is Easter celebrated in Portugal? And what are the Easter dates for 2024? One of Portugal’s most popular public holidays in 2024, Holy Week, takes place from 24th-31st March 2024. Let’s have a closer look at the Easter holiday and traditions in Portugal, including must-visit places to celebrate in 2024.

Easter traditions in Portugal

What is Easter like in Portugal? Firstly, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s important to remember that in Portugal, the Easter festivities generally last a week, beginning on Palm Sunday. This entire Holy Week is celebrated with processions and religious rituals, where both locals and tourists gather to experience Christ’s journey to the cross, depicted and celebrated in different ways. 

Being predominantly Roman Catholic, Easter holds a special place in the hearts of the Portuguese people, who gather with their families to celebrate the occasion over large meals, featuring some of the best food in Portugal. Throughout the country, there are numerous local and familial customs still being observed, with each family having their own distinct way of celebrating Easter.

In addition to religious observances, there may be cultural events and activities throughout Portugal during Easter, including concerts, exhibitions, and special performances.

Easter food in Portugal

Food plays a massive part in Portugal’s Easter holidays, as it brings families together and keeps traditions alive. On Easter Sunday, families gather to enjoy a long lunch together, often consisting of roast lamb, while other dishes such as cod are enjoyed on Good Friday while many are still observing lent. 

Easter in Portugal is also a haven for those with a sweet tooth, with sweet treats taking centre stage, although in Portugal sweets treats are much more than just Easter eggs. These vary across the country and even depending on your family. Check out our guide to the best Easter food in Portugal so you don’t miss out on any of these delicious delights. 

Is Easter a good time to visit Portugal?

Easter can be a wonderful time to visit Portugal for several reasons:

  1. Cultural and Religious Experience: Easter in Portugal is deeply rooted in religious and cultural traditions, offering visitors a unique opportunity to witness elaborate processions, attend church services, and experience the country’s rich heritage firsthand.
  2. Festive Atmosphere: Throughout Holy Week, Portugal comes alive with a festive atmosphere, with colorful decorations, lively street events, and traditional music and dance performances. Whether you’re in a bustling city like Lisbon or a quaint village, you’ll find celebrations that showcase Portuguese culture at its best.
  3. Mild Weather: Easter falls in the springtime in Portugal, typically offering mild temperatures and blooming landscapes. It’s an ideal time to explore the country’s outdoor attractions, from historic sites and scenic landscapes to charming coastal towns and vineyards.
  4. Gastronomic Delights: Easter in Portugal is a time for indulging in delicious traditional foods, from sweet breads and pastries to savory dishes like roast lamb and bacalhau (salted cod). Many restaurants and cafes offer special Easter menus featuring seasonal ingredients and regional specialties.
  5. Less Crowded: While Easter is a popular time for domestic travel in Portugal, it may not see the same influx of tourists as other peak seasons like summer. This means you can enjoy popular attractions and landmarks with fewer crowds and potentially find better deals on accommodation and transportation.

Easter in Portugal 2024

Celebrating Easter in Portugal can be a rich and rewarding experience, with various cities and regions offering unique traditions and festivities. Where is the best place to celebrate Easter in Portugal? Here are some places where you can immerse yourself in Easter celebrations in Portugal:

Porto

Like most Catholic cities in the world, Porto celebrates the Holy Week festivities with great religious fervour. Throughout Holy Week in the city of Porto, devout locals take tours of the city’s main historical churches, such as the Sé do Porto Cathedral, the Church of São Francisco, Igreja da Trindade, or Igreja e Tueste dos Clérigos, amongst others. 

Good Friday is one of the most important days of the Holy Week events in Porto as this is when the locals experience the reenactment of the path that Jesus Christ followed and suffered until he was crucified. Christ is represented by an actor and carries a heavy wooden cross along this route on foot, while prayers and songs are sung along the way creating a highly moving and emotive atmosphere.

Braga

Braga is where the most well-known and authentic Semana Santa events take place in Portugal, making it a must-visit destination at Easter. Holy Week in Braga is celebrated with great religious solemnity. Highlights include Maundy Thursday, when the Last Supper is celebrated and locals experience the reenactment of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Good Friday when the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ are depicted, as well as Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday itself, celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

Loulé

For those seeking an Easter getaway in the Algarve, Loulé should be your destination of choice. In addition to the region’s delightful climate and exceptional cuisine, the town is also renowned for its distinctive Easter traditions. The feast of the Mãe Soberana, patron saint of the city, is considered the largest religious festival south of Fatima and dates back to over 500 years ago. 

The celebration begins on Easter Sunday (Festa Pequena) with a procession in which the faithful locals accompany the image of Nossa Senhora da Piedade from her sanctuary to the Church of São Francisco, where it remains for fifteen days (Festa Grande).

Óbidos

Óbidos is a city that has been drawing an increasing number of Portuguese and international visitors every year, thanks to the wide range of events it hosts. The town’s Easter celebrations, centred around its iconic castle, are among the most popular of these events. This vibrant festival spans two weeks, and during Holy Week, the town comes alive with deeply moving processions winding their way through its narrow, cobbled streets.

For example, during what is known as the procession of the Burial of the Lord, an image of the recumbent Christ is carried on the shoulders of the bearers, and is followed by a long procession of locals, dressed in different costumes reminiscent of the period, and carrying torches as the only means of illumination. Many of the processions that take place during the most important days, such as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, are similar and are also torch lit, as well as being deeply emotive. 

Lisbon

Easter in Lisbon is a vibrant and culturally rich experience, blending centuries-old religious traditions with modern festivities. Lisbon hosts several religious processions during Holy Week, particularly on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. One of the most notable processions is the “Procissão do Senhor dos Passos” (Procession of the Lord of the Steps) on Good Friday. This solemn procession features statues representing scenes from the Passion of Christ, carried through the streets of Lisbon amidst prayers and chants.

The historic neighbourhoods of Alfama and Mouraria are particularly atmospheric during Easter, with their narrow winding streets and ancient churches. Visitors can join local residents in attending processions and experiencing traditional Portuguese Easter customs. 

In addition to religious observances, Lisbon hosts various cultural events and activities during Easter. Concerts, exhibitions, and performances may take place in venues across the city, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in Portuguese arts and culture.

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