Festivals of Western Europe, by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, , at sacred-texts.com
ANO NOVO (New Year's Day) January 1
The New Year starts with special services in the churches. Friends and relatives visit from house to house, greeting one another with "Boas Festas" and exchanging good wishes and congratulations. In northern Portugal children go about the neighborhood singing old songs called janeiras which are thought to bring luck in the coming year. In return for their greetings the boys and girls receive gifts of food and coins. In some places the village band goes through the streets playing stirring airs. Whenever the musicians happen to pass the house of one of their members they stop and play a special selection.
Peasants of the Minho have the saying that a person will act during the twelve months as he behaves on the first day of the year. For this reason youngsters look well to their manners and older people conduct their affairs with care. If anyone pays a debt on Ano Novo, for example, he is likely to be paying throughout the year. On this day it is well to have a coin in the pocket, something new on one's back, and extra food in the larder.
DIA DE REIS (Day of the Kings) January 6
All over the country peasants perform Epiphany plays in honor of the Magi. Bands of carolers go about, singing greetings and begging gifts, for they, like the Three Holy Kings, are weary and come from afar.
In some places family groups visit one another from house to house. The guests stand at the door and beg admittance, so they can sing to the Christ Child. After receiving a hearty welcome and singing special carols in honor of the Infant Jesus, the guests are entertained with wines and sweets.
Gifts are exchanged on Dia de Reis and special entertainment is provided for children. Mothers give them a party and a ringshaped cake called bolo-rei. Baked inside the cake are all sorts of little amulets and fortune-telling trinkets, as well as a single dried broad bean. The child finding the bean in his portion is crowned king of the party and promises to "make the cake" for his playmates the following year.
When adults hold Dia de Reis parties, in some regions, the person finding the bean is expected to pay for next year's cake.
SAO VICENTE (Saint Vicente) January 22
Saint Vicente, murdered by Saracens of Algarve in 1173, is Lisbon's patron saint. Tradition says two ravens miraculously guided a boat, carrying the saint's coffin, up the river Tagus to the harbor of Lisbon. The inhabitants were so grateful to both winged pilots and magic bark for returning their saint that they depicted the event in Lisbon's coat of arms.
Saint Vicente's Day is celebrated in weather omens and folk traditions, no less than in processions and prayers. Farmers feel that a good way to predict harvests in the coming season is to light a resin torch, carry it to a high hill and then note what happens: if the flame is extinguished in the wind, crops will be abundant and an extra helper needed; if, on the contrary, the torch burns in spite of the wind, the season will be bad and a farm hand must go.
NOSSA SENHORA DE FATIMA (Our Lady of Fatima), in Fatima, province of Estremadura May 13 and October 13
The Sanctuary of Fatima, at Cova da Iria, in a brief time has become one of the world's greatest pilgrimage centers. Thousands of pilgrims--often more than a hundred thousand at one time throng this Portuguese Lourdes on the thirteenth of May and October, to pray, seek spiritual grace, or miraculous cure at Our Lady of Fatima's shrine.
Until May 13, 1917, Fatima consisted of a handful of peasant huts, and the Cova da Iria, now dominated by the modern basilica and the vast open space before it, was nothing but a grassy slope. Here three young shepherds, Lucia de Jesus and Jacinta and Francisco Mato tended their sheep. On that fateful thirteenth of May, the sky suddenly darkened above the children at noon. Thinking a storm threatened, the three shepherds prepared to drive the animals back to their village of Almoster.
As the children started to leave, a beautiful lady clothed in white appeared to them from the branches of a holm-oak. She told the frightened children to return to the same spot on the thirteenth of each month, until October, and to "say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war."
Word about the monthly appearances of Our Lady of the Rosary spread. She visited the children for the last time on October 13, in the presence of an estimated seventy thousand persons who gathered on the grassy slope to witness the miraculous apparition. The message of the Virgin was always the same: a warning of need for sacrifice, prayer, and consecration, and a promise of the conversion of Russia and peace to the world, when "a sufficient number of people" do what Our Lady asks.
Today Lucia, the only one of the three children to survive, is Sister Maria Dolores of the Carmelite Convent of Coimbra. The image of Our Lady of the Rosary has circled the globe and visited seventeen or more countries in a mission to bring the message of peace to all peoples. The Chapel of Apparition stands on the reputed site of the little shepherds' vision. A new place of pilgrimage has arisen in central Portugal's remote and barren moors.
Pilgrims travel long distances--on foot, by donkey, in automobiles--to bring their sick to Fatima. May 13 and October 13 are the great pilgrimage days, since they mark the first and last apparitions of Our Lady, but many minor pilgrimages are made on the thirteenth of the intervening months and also at other time families crouch about small fires built on the bare earth and cool simple meals. Then, huddling in the vast arena before the church the pilgrims await the moment when the small image of Our Lady is carried out of the basilica in procession. In the warm glow of thousands of lighted candles the Virgin makes her rounds. Mass is performed and the sick and crippled receive the Sacrament.
When Nossa Senhora de Fatima is returned next day to her place in the basilica, the pilgrims wave their handkerchiefs in sad farewell.
CARNAVAL (Carnival) The Sunday, Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday
The last three days before Ash Wednesday culminate the pre-Lenten festivities, which begin several weeks earlier. Throughout the country masked balls, parties, confetti battles and dances are held at this season.
Even as recently as a little over a century ago the Lisbon carnival was characterized as a time of license, with obscene jokes, coarse horseplay, and battles with eggs, oranges, flour and water predominating. Today public festivities in Lisbon are restricted for the most part, to processions of gay flower-decked cars, music, an parades of revelers in fancy costume.
In rural areas Carnival continues to be celebrated with much of its old time gaiety and abandon. Battles of flowers, mummers and musicians, the burial in effigy of King Carnival, old folk plays and dramas are features of the festivities.
DOMINGO DE RAMOS (Palm Sunday) The Sunday preceding Easter
In northern Portugal people take to church ramos, or branches bent into half loops and decorated with spring flowers. The priest blesses the ramos, which later are carried in procession. These hoops are carefully preserved in homes and burned during storms, as a protection against thunder and lightning.
SEMANA SANTA (Holy Week) The week preceding Easter
During Holy Week, sometimes throughout Lent, there are exhibits in the churches and processions through the streets of scenes from the Passion of Jesus.
The church of Senhor dos Passos, Our Lord of the Way of the Cross, in the city of Guimardes, shows a different Passion tableau each day of Holy Week "to remind people of the sufferings of Our Lord."
Two of the most famous Passion processions are in the city of Covilha on the slope of the Serra de Estrela, and in the town of Vila do Conde. In many places these processions are attended by bands of anjinhos, children dressed as little angels, with crowns on their heads and fluffy eiderdown wings attached to their shoulders. The figures of Jesus, which have lashes, real hair, and crystal tears, are sumptuously clad in robes of purple velvet. The clergy's vestments and all processional properties are violet in color, and frequently the worshipers lined up to watch the procession, toss violets to their suffering Lord.
Many churches are decorated with white flowers. Old and young, rich and poor attend the Easter Masses which are characterized by magnificent Resurrection music. After the services families eat a holiday meal and visit among friends and neighbors.
Folar is a popular Easter cake in many places. This is made of sweet dough baked in a round flat shape and decorated on top with hard-boiled eggs. People exchange presents of little colored paper cornucopias filled with sugar covered almonds.
QUINTA-FEIRA DA ESPIGA (Ear of Wheat Thursday or Ascension Day) The fortieth day after Easter
On this day peasants make bouquets of olive branches and wheat sheaves, poppies and daisies. The olive and wheat symbolize wishes for abundant harvest; the poppy stands for peace, the daisy for money. A bit of wheat is kept in the house as a sign of prosperity throughout the coating year. People often gather medicinal plants and herbs on this day, preparing them later for home remedies or magic spells.
PENTECOSTES (Pentecost, Whitsun) The fiftieth day after Easter
The anniversary of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Disciples is celebrated with special church services. In some towns of the Azores, local Holy Ghost societies issue free food tickets to the poor. Long elaborately decorated tables, laden with all kinds of bread, meat, and other tempting foods, are set up in the main streets. Food and drink are distributed to the community poor while bands play and villagers who have contributed to the feast act as hosts and hostesses to their less fortunate neighbors.
The distribution of food usually continues until Corpus Christi, eleven days after Pentecost.
DIA DE CORPO DE DEUS (Corpus Christi), in Ponta Delgada, on the island of San Miguel, the Azores The Thursday following Trinity Sunday
Since medieval days Corpus Christi, the feast that honors the Eucharist, has been one of the most sumptuous of all religious observances both on the Portuguese mainland and in the Azores.
In the city of Ponta Delgada, on San Miguel, on Corpus Christi Sunday the inhabitants make a magnificent flower petal carpet--almost three quarters of a mile in length--over which the procession passes. High-ranking clergy wearing gorgeous vestments and walking under an embroidered canopy, are accompanied by acolytes who swing censers and hold tall white candles. Hundreds of red-robed priests follow, then a charming group of first communicants--little boys in dark suits and scarlet capes and little girls in white frocks and filmy veils.
The climax of the ceremony comes when the bishop, in vestments woven with gold and silver thread, slowly raises the silver monstrance and exposes the Blessed Sacrament, symbol of the Body of Christ. Worshipers sink to their knees. As if to enhance the solemnity of the moment, the setting sun often drenches the bowed heads of the vast throng with warm glowing light. A spectacular backdrop of purple, rose, and gold suddenly unfurls in the sky as the chanting of priests and the devout responses of the people fill the evening with somber melody.
SANTO ANTONIO (Saint Anthony) June 13
One of the country's most popular saints is Saint Anthony of Padua, who was born in 1195 in the Alfama, Lisbon's oldest and most crowded quarter, where the small church of Santo Antonio da Se now stands. When the church was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755, even the boys and girls of the Alfama began collecting pennies for its reconstruction. The children set up little street altars which they decorated with white paper lace cut-outs, flowers, tapers, and gaudy pictures of their saint. The youngsters begged "a tittle penny for Santo Antonio" from all who passed. The "little pennies" and the children's example must have prompted many substantial gifts, because the present building, completed in 1812, was paid for by these alms.
The custom of begging for Santo Antonio still continues in the twentieth century. Throughout the month of June in Lisbon, children prepare altars in the saint's honor. Boxes and tables are covered with white paper "altar cloths" and decorated with candles, images and pictures depicting the life and works of the saint. "Little pennies" are still demanded, but nowadays for a children's feast.
Antonio is the matchmaker saint. On the Eve of his day young girls try various methods of finding out whom they will wed. One favorite way is for a girl to fill her mouth with water and hold it until she hears a boy's name mentioned. The name she hears is sure to be that of her future husband!
Young people write letters asking Antonio to furnish sweethearts. These epistles are dropped into a box in Santo Antonio da Se. When love affairs prosper and suitable mates are found, the box receives thank offerings from the grateful lovers.
A charming custom of the day is for young men to present a pot of basil to the girls they hope to wed. A frilled and fluted tinsel-trimmed paper carnation of various colors blooms in each pot. Within the petals is a verse or message which indicates the young man's passion. Often the flower is accompanied by a painted toy, a pretty fan, or some other trifle calculated to appeal to a maiden's fancy.
VESPERA DE SAO JOAO (Saint John's Eve) June 23
On the night dedicated to Sao Joao Baptista many traditional rites connected with fire, water, and love are observed. In some places boys and girls strip a pine tree, decorate it with flowers and greens, and ceremoniously carry it into the village. There the facho, as the tree is called, is set up in the center of a great bonfire of brush and pine logs. When the fire is lighted young people dance about it, singing ancient songs dedicated to Sao Joao. Hand in hand the couples leap over the flames.
Mothers often hold children over the embers, as the saint's fires are thought to possess curative virtue. Cattle and flocks are driven through the ashes so the animals will prosper throughout the coming year. Even the dead embers are gathered and carefully preserved, for they are thought to be efficacious against storm and evil influences.
People say that Saint John's Eve water possesses great heating power. Before dawn both cattle and children are bathed in rivers or dew, to ensure health and strength. Young girls and women like to wash their faces in spring water or early dew, so they will be lovely throughout the year. Often peasants deck the springs with garlands, and water from seven different springs either is drunk, or carried home in flower-wreathed jugs.
On Saint John's Eve, night of love, young people exercise powers of divination. Three beans slipped under the pillow at night, cakes in which a grain of maize is hidden, fig leaves passed through the Sao Joao fires and touched with midnight dew--all these are good devices for learning whom one will wed. In Oporto, lovers exchange gifts in the marketplace at dawn. Boys give their sweethearts little pots of marjoram, girls present the boys with a large leek, which must be kept "for luck." In other places a boy sometimes bestows a purple thistle, which the girl promptly burns in the bonfire. She then plants the blackened stem in the ground. If a flower appears by morning, the true love has been found.
Portuguese peasants, who like to feel their saints can enjoy their own festas, have many charming folk songs in which the saints are tenderly addressed. Sao Joao, being a favorite saint, is showered with loving attention on his day.
These verses, known at Braga, Amares, and Povoa do Lanhoso, are typical of many delightful Saint John's Day songs:
O, my Saint John the Baptist,
Of what do you wish your chapels made?
Of carnations and of more roses,
With little yellow carnations.
DANCA DO REI DAVID (Dance of King David), in Braga, province of Minho June 24
Portugal celebrates Saint John's Day widely with parades, pageants, bull-fights, fireworks and other popular amusements. Vila do Conde, Viseu, Pvora, Vila Nova de Famalicao and many other places have special observances, while the day is popular among gypsies of the Alentejo for weddings and colorful festivities. One of the most interesting folk ceremonies is at Braga, where the Danca do Rei David, Dance of King David, is performed in the streets.
The role of King David is hereditary in a certain family living near Braga, and the dance itself possibly originated in medieval times or earlier. The King, wearing a tall crown and voluminous cape and strumming a guitar, is accompanied by ten shepherds (or courtiers, according to some) in brilliant velvet coats and turban-wound fezzes. The shepherds play ancient tunes on a variety of musical instruments, including fiddles, flutes, and triangles. During the course of their parade through town the group frequently halts to perform a curious ritualistic dance, first King David alone, then the King accompanied by his followers.
SAO PEDRO (Saint Peter) June 29
Sao Pedro, patron of fishermen, like Santo Antonio and Sao Joao, is a favorite June saint whose day is celebrated widely in both towns and villages. Sintra (Estremadura), Montijo (Estremadura) and Alcanena (Ribatejo) all have traditional festivities which include fairs, fireworks, singing and dancing. In Lisbon there are torchlight parades in the saint's honor and, as in most popular festas, young people dance in the streets at night and refresh themselves from sidewalk stalls with huge platefuls of rice and succulent sardines, grilled with tomatoes and green peppers.
Since Sao Pedro, like Antonio and Joao, looks upon lovers with an indulgent eye, his night is considered favorable for all sorts of divination games. One favorite way for young girls to find out whom they will marry is to knock at nine different doors without uttering a word. If absolute silence is maintained throughout the ceremony, the first man seen from the window in the morning will be the girl's lover.
In some places children erect little shrines to Sao Pedro on the doorsteps. The altars are charmingly decorated with flowers, holy pictures, and lighted tapers. Whenever the children see someone coming they run out and beg coppers "for the poor saint."
FESTA DA RAINHA SANTA ISABEL (Festival of the Holy Queen Isabel), in Coimbra, province of Beira Litoral First fortnight in July, in even years
Rainha Santa Isabel, Holy Queen Isabel, is Patroness of Coimbra, Portugal's first capital and ancient university center. Every two years Coimbra observes the festival of her pious Queen with a week of elaborate religious processions, fireworks, speeches, concerts and popular amusements. So devoted is Coimbra to the Rainha Santa that her image is incorporated in the city's coat of arms. Isabel, whom people claim "saved the city from pestilence and calamity," was beatified by Pope Leo X in 1516 and canonized by Urban VIII in 1625.
Isabel of Portugal, who was born in 1271, was daughter of Pedro III of Aragon and wife of Dom Diniz, Portugal's poet king. Of all her good works the Rainha Santa is probably best loved for the legendary "miracle of roses." Dom Diniz, who was unsympathetic to his wife's frequent errands of mercy for the poor and afflicted, once demanded to know what she carried in the upheld folds of her robe. "Roses," said Isabel, who was hiding bread for the hungry. She opened her robe and lo! her alms had been transformed into roses.
Historically, Queen Isabel exercised a strong influence for peace in the tumultaous times in which she lived and prevented Portugal from becoming embroiled in civil war. When her husband died in 1325, she retired to the convent of Santa Clara which she had founded, and joined the Third Order of Saint Francis. Throughout the country the Rainha Santa was famed for her miracles, many of the blind and paralyzed claiming she had cured their ills.
The ruined convent of Santa Clara stands on the banks of the Mondego, where it is partly buried in the sands. People still point to the door where the miracle of roses occurred. The saint's reputedly incorruptable body once rested in the old church, but was removed in the seventeenth century to the Convento de Santa Clara a Nova, the "new" Convent of Santa Clara, built high on the Monte da Esperanca, the Hill of Hope.
The Rainha Santa procession starts at nine in the evening from this convent. The image of the Holy Queen is solemnly carried beneath the gaily-painted wooden arches that span the streets between tall poles. The poles are alternately decorated with gildel crowns and baskets of red and white roses, illumined from within. Garlands of flowers and plaster replicas of Queen Isabel with her robe full of roses, add further color to the line of march. The spectacular procession accompanied by music and fireworks advances slowly down the steep winding hill, goes across the Ponte de Santa Clara and to the Igreja da Graca. There religious ceremonies are held and the image remains until the last night of the festa, when it is returned to its place on the altar of the convent church.
FESTA DOS TABULEIROS (Festival of the Tabuleiros), in Tomar, province of Ribatejo About the second week in July, every third year in odd years (1959, 1961, 1963, and so on)
For over six hundred years the city of Tomar has celebrated the Festa dos Tabuleiros in token of thanksgiving for harvest foods and of the city's charity for the poor and afflicted. Every third year the festa is celebrated for four days, toward mid-July, both in the homes and on the streets. For four days there are bands, dances, concerts, processions, fireworks, bullfights and feasting. For four days Tomar's population is doubled or tripled, for rich and poor alike pour into the town from far and near.
The outstanding feature of the celebration is a magnificent procession of six hundred girls selected from Tomar and surrounding communities. The girls wear huge headdresses constructed with small loaves of bread and adorned with flowers. "Once the flowers were real," people told me. Now they are made of colored paper--a wise provision, surely, for a four-day festa.
The tabuleiro, as the traditional headdress is called, weighs about thirty-three pounds and "must be as tall as the girl who carries it." The foundation is a round basket, such as the Portuguese use for serving bread. From the basket (which is covered with an embroidered linen cloth) rises a framework of bamboo sticks and wires. The bamboo pierces thirty small bread loaves, arranged in five rows, six to a row. The intervening wires are covered with rainbow-colored flowers. A Maltese cross or a white dove makes a finial to the massive structure. The dove (of cotton battincy with red tinsel eyes and an olive branch in its tinsel beak) "symbolizes peace and the Holy Ghost," while the cross stands for the ancient Order of Christ, which once flourished in Tomar.
The city has lived for centuries with the cross as her symbol. The twelfth-century Templars' monastery castle is silhouetted against the sky on the hill west of the town. It was in Tomar that the "new" Order of Christ took firm root in 1356, following the suppression of the Templars whose Grand Master, in 1160, built the forbidding castle above the Nabao. The square Maltese Cross of the Order of Christ is therefore repeated endlessly both in the town's sculptured monuments and in all festa decorations.
The Festa dos Tabuleiros though intermingled with secular entertainment, is primarily religious in character. The event is so old that nobody in Tomar can tell when or how it started. Everyone agrees, however, that the procession which honors the Holy Ghost, represents an annual thank offering; that the bread, wine, and flesh--three symbolic elements featured in the procession--which are blessed by the priest and distributed to the poor, are gifts of plenty from the rich to their needy neighbors. The Portuguese word peca, "a word impossible to translate," according to one informant, "but meaning the giving of these three foods to the poor, has come down through the centuries and is known only to Tomar."
As with all ceremonials that have been observed for hundreds of years, there are many conflicting theories concerning the origin of the Festa dos Tabuleiros. One favorite supposition is that it has come down from early Roman times and the processions honoring Ceres, goddess of the harvest. Another explanation links the giving of bread to the poor with the legend of Queen Isabel I, who was known as the Rainha Santa. Yet a third legend associates the custom with the name of Donna Maria Fogaca, a rich and pious woman, who lived long ago when Tomar and the surrounding countryside were ravaged by locusts. All the grain was destroyed. The poor, deprived of daily bread, died by hundreds. Donna Maria ordered that a great loaf be made from her own stock of grain. Distributing the food to the starving people, she urged them to make an annual procession and to beseech God always to provide them with sufficient bread.
Since I arrived in Tomar in advance of the festa, I had ample opportunity to observe the elaborate preparations going on in every quarter of town. For weeks beforehand housewives had indulged in orgies of cleaning and polishing. Confectioners turned out tons of the regional estrelas, fatias, queijinhos, and other doces, or sweets, for which Tomar is justly famous, while local hostelries frenziedly set up extra beds and stocked extra foods for the expected influx of guests.
One of the most delightful folk aspects of the whole affair was the original and often very artistic way in which various little communities worked out decorative plans for their own neighborhoods. There was Rua do Camardo, the Street of Shrimp, for example, one of Tomar's more humble quarters, which won both first and second prizes as the most beautiful street in town.
Rua do Camardo is long and slightly twisting. The modest whitewashed cottages with gaily painted half doors, crowd close to the cobbled lane. On the eve of the festa every man, woman, cat, dog, and chicken was busily running hither and yon. I was invited to look into a dark cellar which overflowed with beautiful paper flower decorations. People were stringing electric lights against house walls. Fresh greens were being woven into long garlands adorned with pink, blue, yellow, and red artificial flowers. Festoons were hung from house to house across the narrow alley. One old man was busy making what I took for a shrine in a jog of the wall. He beckoned me to come closer. Unwarily, I leaned over, to be suddenly drenched by a tiny hidden fountain!
The Rua do Camardo was gay with paper flower festoons over doors and windows. At either end of the street inverted paper umbrellas, with panels of red, yellow, blue and white swung merrily, with tissue covered "pails," lighted from within, dangling from each point. Smaller umbrellas, also illumined, lined the street close to the houses.
But while Rua do Camardo artists were busy with decorations, her poets were busy writing little hand-printed rhymes which they tacked up against the walls and framed with flowers. One verse read:
Another verse, not only flower framed but decorated with green leaves and two pink-eyed doves, emphasized the peace theme, so often evident in Portuguese thinking:
Yet another verse expressed much the same idea:
Decorations in the Rua do Camaras grew increasinely elaborate as the festa progressed, so it was fun to visit the quarter each night and see what new ideas had developed during the day. One night hundreds of fairy lamps made from lighted wicks floating in tiny terra cotta saucers, shone like glow worms along the cobbled street, close to the houses. For centuries primitive lamps such as these have been used by humble folk in this ancient land. By the end of the festa, flower pots adorned the tops of walls, flowers bloomed from trees and many other colorful touches appeared in the narrow street.
Tomar's ancient ghetto, like the Street of the Shrimp, also was bursting with festa spirit. I paused to chat with an old man who was attaching sprays of green, adorned with bright red artifical cherries, to a morning-glory vine which sprawled voluptuously across the front of his tiny cottage. The vine, I noted, not only bore its own great purple flowers, but a profusion of red, green, and silver tinsel blossoms. Everywhere people took childlike joy in producing colorful effects. Throughout the town a great deal of artistry and skill went into the decorations, which cost little but displayed community planning and effort.
Serpa Pinto, Tomar's business street, was as gay as the town's more humble quarters. There were paper lanterns and roses, fluttering banners and balcony decorations. The motifs of the Cross of Christ and the Holy Dove were repeated many times. Shops vied with each other in displaying original verses, figures of girls carrying the tabuleiros, and all kinds of Tomar sweets, together with regular merchandise. Some shopkeepers showed a real flair for modern advertising. One accessory store, for example, exhibited women's scarves, handbags, gloves, and dress materials, along with comforting hints such as these:
Against this background of gaiety and color the Festa dos Tabuleiros officially opened with processions of bands and soldiers. By day, firecrackers, set off at intervals, announced the approach of bagpipers and drummers. All night loudspeakers blared forth song hits and jazz--Portuguese, French and American--while the amusement park was the scene of a products' fair, family picnics, and unbelievably noisy merry-go-rounds. By midnight the noise reached a deafening crescendo when fireworks were shot off from the Templars' castle on the hill. One night there was a great naval battle in the air. Another time the mighty eight-hundred-year-old fortress seemed smoldering in flames. Of course, nobody slept until he fell down from sheer fatigue.
Sunday, the high day of the festa, dawned bright and hot. Everybody seemed too exhausted by the fireworks, bullfights, and parades of the first two days to get the celebration under way on time. The bagpipers, who kept circulating in streets and taverns, began to look decidedly worse for wear. Housewives were out early, nevertheless, to seek festa bargains. I saw many hurrying home before noon with huge bouquets for the table and chickens or rabbits for the pot. Solemn High Mass at Sao Joao Baptista's was late, and the old Gothic church, hung with feast day scarlet, overflowed with peasants, kneeling in Sunday best. Dinners were late all over town, but once eaten, everybody hastened to the church square to witness the great Tabuleiros procession. The grandstand was erected before the beautiful eighteenth-century palace, now the Town Hall, directly opposite Sao Joao Baptista's door. Spectators lined the streets all about the square, which was cleared except for cameramen.
After a long wait the repeated firing of rockets announced the approaching procession. Two firecracker men slowly advanced, passing before the grandstand. They wore white shirts and trousers, broad red ashes and green and red knitted caps. One man held a bundle of rockets. His partner preceded him, lighting one rocket at a time and sending it aloft with a terrific din that immediately dislodged all the gray doves in the church belfry. Out they flew, a silver phalanx against the deep blue sky; then they settled back in their hidden ledges, only to fly out again with the next explosion.
Following the firecracker men came the bagpipers, resplendent in red satin shirts, their waists twined with red and black paper garlands. Tomar's briskly stepping band came next, then the city standard bearer with a red satin banner embroidered with a gold dove. Close behind were three men, each bearing a silver crown displayed on a scarlet cushion.
At last the tabuletros approached--the procession of six hundred girls carrying on their heads beautiful crowns with the bread to be blessed. From a distance they looked like moving columns of brilliant flowers--green, blue, cerise, purple, orange, pink. Each girl wore the traditional simple white cotton dress, high-necked, longsleeved, of ankle length. The close fitting blouses had little lace-edged peplums, and the full ruffled skirts were also trimmed with lace. Ribbons about four inches wide, of pink, blue, red, or other colors were passed over one shoulder, about the waist and tied in a bow with long streamers at the opposite side.
Straight and strong the double line of girls approached, each with a ribboned sogra, or padded ring on her head, to support the tabuleiro of bread and flowers. Modern caryatids, these stately girls bore their heavy burdens with the grace of young goddesses. Each girl had an escort--a young man in dark trousers, red sash, and white shirt who strode beside her on the outside of the line.
The girls with the tabuleiros marched past the grandstand, on into the square. Their escorts lifted the headdresses to the ground. Line after line filed by, each group of girls preceded by the parish standard-bearer, each with the special flower or fruit selected by the parish. Tiger lilies, poppies, roses, tulips, lemons, and cherries all were represented in the headdresses. Many girls made the flowers themselves, I was told. Sometimes a well-to-do citizen donated a headdress to be carried by a girl in the community. Each village or hamlet developed its own decorative theme in an individual way. One parish wrapped the small loaves in cellophane tying the ends with scarlet bows.
One of the prettiest tabuleiros was made with geraniums, shaded from salmon pink to deep maroon. The flowers were charmingly emphasized by green leaves. As in all headdresses, rows of bread alternated with flowers. The pretty girl bearing the geraniums was small, with long gold earrings and maroon sash.
At last, all six hundred girls and their escorts had filed into the square where they stood motionless, their symbolic crowns beside them. A solemn hush fell over the crowd. The time of benediction had come. Even the doves seemed to settle back into the shadows of the old belfry, the circling swallows to cease their screaming. The priest appeared, robed in gold and white, and accompanied by two altar boys in scarlet and white. Slowly the priest passed down one long line of the motionless girls and up another, blessing the loaves as he went.
This gift of bread for the poor is symbolic, rather than actual, I was told. Each family receiving a Festa dos Tabuleiros loaf cherishes it throughout the year against sickness and disaster. A bit of the blessed loaf, when swallowed by man or beast in time of crisis, is thought to possess healing power. Many peasants keep in the holy place not only current festa loaves, but those acquired in previous years.
The benediction service completed, the church bells rang joyously. Almost simultaneously the escorts lifted the tabuleiros, replacing them on the heads of the erect young girls who began marching out of the square and into the street. Then came one of the most picturesque features of the procession: Three two-wheeled ox carts, each drawn by a yoke of golden brown animals with flower decked horns, passed by the starid and followed the marching girls. The first two carts, decorated with wheat and poppies, (in symbol of the gift of bread), each carried a little girl with long corkscrew curls and swansdown angel wings. The third cart, representing the gift of wine, contained a decorated wine cask under a bower of grapes and leaves. Then came three pair of oxen with decorated horns. These beasts--the gift of prosperous citizens--were destined for slaughter. Tomorrow their flesh would be distributed to the needy. The blessed bread, the wine, the flesh--these three elements comprised Tomar's Peca--her traditio
al festa offering to old people in the workhouse on the hill, to the poor for miles about.
The distribution of peca started next day from the Misericordia Church, where the loaves had been locked up throughout the night. By ten o'clock the procession was slowly forming close to the church, before the interested eyes of small boys, a few old peddlars, and a handful of spectators. The continuous celebration of the previous three days and nights seemed to rob this last ritual of much enthusiasm on the part of Tomar's citizens.
The peca procession, like that of the tabuleiros, was preceded by firecracker men, bagpipers, and drummers. One of yesterday's wheat-and-poppy-decorated ox carts was piled high with the blessed bread, the other with newspaper wrapped packets of meat. As on the previous day, the little angels presided over the carts. Stocky men in white suits and red sashes strode beside them, guiding the animals and assisting in the distribution of pecas. Following the bread and meat carts came the one with the wine cask.
All day the little procession passed up and down through Tomar's twisted streets. All day food was given to ragged and poor, old and infirm, and all day the traditional rite was accompanied by the playing of bands, shooting of rockets and the fanfare of bagpipes and drums.
But the festa was not over. Once more magnificent fireworks exploded most of the night, loudspeakers roared, merry-go-rounds blared. Streets and roads were filled with peasants returning home with baskets and bedding, for the morrow would find them toiling at their nets and in the fields.
The next day Tomar gradually huddled back into her accustomed quiet beneath the shadow of the Templars' castle on the hill. Secular though the great celebration is in many respects, the Dove of Peace hovers over the standard of the ancient town and the Cross of Christ is hewn in her twelfth-century ramparts. Peace for Portugal and bread for the poor--this is the real significance of the Festa dos Tabuleiros.
FESTA DO COLETE ENCARNADO (Red Waistcoat Festival), in Vila Franca de Xira, province of Ribatejo Some time in July
The Festa do Colete Encarnado derives its name from the red waistcoats of the campinos, or bull herders of the Ribatejo. These men still wear their traditional eighteenth-century costumes, consisting of bright red sleeveless waistcoats, blue breeches, stocking caps, white woolen hose and red sashes. The campinos carry slender eight- to ten-foot staves with sharp arrow-pointed metal tips. These staves are used in the province of Ribatejo to herd and control the bulls.
The campinos parade on horseback through the streets of Vila Franca de Xira amid the wild acclaim of onlookers; for these hardy men breed and care for the black bulls for which the district is famous.
The high point of the festa comes when the bulls are let loose in the streets and start on their way to the ring. Chased by the campinos and goaded on by the yells, taunts, and teasing of the foolhardy, the enraged animals often charge at their tormentors who seek to exhibit their prowess as amateur matadors. Hundreds of spectators cheer and shout as they view the dangerous sport from the safety of balconies, windows, and barriers.
Bullfights, fireworks, folk dancing and great regional suppers, featuring whole roast oxen and native red wine, characterize this picturesque event in honor of the red waistcoat wearers.
FESTAS GUALTERIANAS (Festivals of Saint Walter), in Gulmaries, province of Minho First Sunday in August, for four days
Guimaraes, Portugal's twelfth-century capital and birthplace of Dom Afonso Henriques, the country's first king, is indeed "the cradle of the nation." Each year this ancient town, proud in palaces and tradition, rich in treasure of silver, wood and stone, but poor in livelihood to many of its humble citizens, is the setting of the Festas Gualterianas, the festival honoring Sao Gualter (Walter), patron of the town. For four days and nights people from all over the Minho pour into Guimardes. There are magnificent processions, dazzling fireworks, animal fairs, picturesque displays of food and merchandise--all to the deafening accompaniment of brass bands, and of loudspeakers playing the jazz hits of the nations.
"The noise starts a month before the festa and continues for a month after it is over," a nun complained.
"Who was Sao Guatter?" I inquired, curious to know about the saint who inspired the noise, the fireworks, the showy adornment of the square with huge yellow, pink and blue parasols, surmounted by stars and electric lights; the white-pillared streets, festooned with green and white garlands that were caught up with great shimmering, green-and-white dragonflies. "Oh, he was a Franciscan saint, contemporaneous with Santo Antonio and Sao Francisco," said my informant, who added, "His story is 'made up', not real."
Before the festa commenced I made Sao Gualter's acquaintance at Senhor dos Passos, Our Lord of the Way of the Cross, the blue-and white-tiled church which overlooks the public garden from a high terrace. In the nave stood a platform with the image of a slender young Franciscan monk, a book in his hand, a halo on his head. Blue hydrangeas and tall white tapers surrounded the image, which soon would be carried in triumphal procession through the town, in celebration of the medieval saint's fiftieth anniversary as patron of Gulmardes. Barefoot peasant women in gaily striped skirts, toil worn men in festa black and little girls in fluttering white Communion veils quietly slipped into the church, prostrated themselves before the image, and left a few coppers for the saint.
The balconies and windows of Senhor dos Passos, now more a museum than a church, were hung in festa scarlet. Other draperies, of blue and white, were for Portugal's first flag--a white cross on blue background. Many processional properties were on exhibition--the scarlet and gold embroidered canopy beneath which the archbishop would walk; sumptuous gold and red vestments for high-ranking clergy; the silver mace; the handsome white satin standard of Saint Guatter, with the name worked in gold threads. One of the most interesting exhibits was a handwoven natural colored linen standard, embroidered in blue with the city's coat of arms and in gold with a representation of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, Our Lady of the Olive Tree, patroness of a tenth-century Gulmaraes abbey. This beautiful symbolic banner was made as an anniversary gift from the city of Gulmardes to Portuguese countrymen in Goa.
The Procissao Gualteriana of Sunday night was a magnificent spectacle. The image of the saint, accompanied by the Archbishop of Braga and distinguished churchmen of both Portugal and Spain, priests, divinity students, bands and standard bearers, was carried from the church of Senhor dos Passos through the picturesquely decorated streets. Thousands of spectators watched the solemn procession, then spent the rest of the night enjoying fireworks, folk dances in regional costume and, most of all perhaps, the shooting galleries, side shows and merry-go-rounds in the public garden that is dominated by the church of Senhor dos Passos. The sanctuary's doors, windows, and rococo facade were now outlined by strings of red, green, yellow, and blue electric bulbs. Even the figures of the four huge granite saints near the portal were wreathed in blazing lights.
Pandemonium seemed let loose as the night wore on. A singer dressed half in scarlet, half in white, with bulbous red nose and raucous voice, kept popping in and out of one side show. Another exhibited an animated creche. Joseph and Mary lifted their arms, while donkeys, cows, and sheep moved heads up and down as the Infant Jesus jerkily raised tiny hands and feet.
Vendors of green and purple grapes, ices, household wares, and foods thronged the streets. Even at two in the morning many peddlars sat by their stalls hopefully awaiting customers. Others wrapped their children in blankets and bunked them up against the sides of buildings. Occasionally a weary woman dropped her head on her arms for a snatch of sleep. Barefoot peasant women, gracefully balancing classic looking terra cotta jugs on their heads, strode through the streets selling draughts of water. Some vendors sold bottles of soft drinks cooled by an oblong block of ice in a pail, while specialists in hot foods squatted over little charcoal braziers close to the curb.
The most fascinating of all merchandise, however, were the tiny pink and black flower-painted cocks, the miniature jugs, the whistles, and pretty hand-woven baskets, spread out in endless array. Each small item was a perfect example of peasant handicraft, the flowering of centuries of poetic imagination, of dwelling close to the soil in the beauty of field and flower.
Then there were the festa breads and fancy cakes. There were great round fragrant loaves designed for family picnicking and little dough dogs and birds to please the children. There were oval sugar-coated cakes and round ones with holes in the middle, strung on pink, blue, or red cords. Vareirinhas, large sugar-coated buns, were sold in pairs for three- and-a-half escudos (about ten cents), while cellophane bagfuls of alfacinhas, cakes that looked like fat peppermints, were even dearer.
As the days passed the festa increased progressively in noise and tempo. The Marcha Gualteriana, a midnight procession of twelve allegorical floats, exhibited to the stirring music of the saint's march, culminated official festivities in a triumph of color, music, and fantasy.
Possibly the most interesting peasant event of the festa came on the final day when the prize-winning animals from various outlying districts were selected and led through the streets by pretty girls in regional dress. Young men and women in costume followed, singing their village songs with great gaiety and flair.
The prize-winning oxen were magnificent golden brown beasts, with enormous lyre-shaped horns adorned with bright paper streamers. The animals' wide, brass-studded collars were hung with flowers. Led through the streets by a comely girl in black pleated skirt and apron, the stately oxen symbolized the Minho, where the rhythm of life changes little through the centuries and festa and song lighten the task of tilling the earth and gathering the harvest.
DIA DE NOSSA SENHORA DA ASSUMPCAO (Assumption Day) August 15
In the churches special services are held to crown Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, in commemoration of her ascent to heaven.
Religious processions accompanied by bands, bagpipes, and drums, go through the streets of many towns and villages. At the small coastal village of Povoa de Varzim in the Minho, the benediction of the fishing boats is one of the festival's main events.
NOSSA SENHORA DA NAZARE (Our Lady of Nazare), in Nazare, province of Estremadura September 8-18
High on the steep cliff overlooking the sea, Nazare has a little chapel dedicated to Our Lady, the object of ten days of pilgrimage and of both religious and secular ceremonies for fisherfolk from miles about.
Local legend says that one Dom Fuas Roupinho built a chapel on this promontory in gratitude to Our Lady of Nazare for miraculously saving his life. According to the story Dom Fuas went doe hunting on September 8, 1182. Through the heavy fog which enveloped the scene like a curtain, the huntsman saw the deer he was following vanish into nothingness. His horse, in hot pursuit, suddenly stopped and pawed the air, for he was on the edge of a cliff that dropped three hundred feet to the sea. Both man and horse would have quickly followed the animal, except for the huntsman's vision of Our Lady of Nazare, whose image had been found by shepherds in a nearby grotto. Dom Fuas prayed for the Virgin's help. As he did so, the horse, poised on the brink of death, drew back into safety. The grateful petitioner had a chapel built for the image. Soon the shrine became the object of veneration to fishermen from throughout the district.
Today it would be hard to find along the coast a cottage without a holy picture of the miraculous rescue of Dom Fuas. The chapel of Our Lady, reconstructed in the seventeenth century, is said to occupy the spot where the vision occurred.
Beginning with September 8, anniversary of the miracle, religious processions, bullfights, dancing, feasting and a fair commemorate Nossa Senhora da Nazare, whose help is sought against all perils of the sea.
DIA DE FINADOS (Day of the Dead) November 2
Masses are said for the repose of the souls of all the deceased. Processions of the faithful go to the cemeteries and visit the graves of the dead. In olden times food offerings for the departed probably were eaten at the graves. Today, however, magusto, or open air feasts of wine and chestnuts, are prepared for the living.
On November 1 bands of children go about singing for "bread for God," and are rewarded with food and drink. Sometimes the singers receive bolas de festa, special Day of the Dead sugar cakes, flavored with cinnamon and herbs.
SAO MARTINHO (Saint Martin) November 11
The Feast of Sao Martinho, which is popularly associated with frequent draughts of red Portuguese wine, chestnuts roasted over glowing embers, and the annual slaughter of the family pig, is widely celebrated. At Golega, in Ribatejo, the traditional Saint Martin's Fair features a famous horse show, with exhibitions of some of the country's finest thoroughbreds. Penafiel, in Tras-os-Montes, also has a Martin's Fair, while towns and villages throughout the country bold parades and revels to honor this saint whose festival has a strongly pagan flavor.
is a current saying which would seem to justify special celebration on the part of all Portugal's many Martinhos.
DIA DO NATAL or DIA DA FAMILIA (Christmas, or Day of the Family) December 25
Christmas to the Portuguese is primarily a family festival, characterized by reunions of as many relatives as can be gathered together. In many parts of the country, the cepo do Natal, or Christmas log (traditionally of oak), is burned on the hearth while the family feasts and drinks late into the day. The charred remains of the log are gathered up and carefully preserved. They are burned, later on, to keep the house from harm, when endangered by thunder or sudden storm.
In some primitive districts people share the consoada, or Christmas repast, with the spirits of the dead, who are thought to return to their former homes at this season. Sometimes crumbs from the feast are sprinkled over the hearth, or food is left on the table so the hungry ghosts may have a part in the family's cheer.
The night before Christmas groups of carolers go through the streets singing hymns about Jesus and his birth in Bethlehem's humble manger.
VESPERA DE ANO NOVO (New Year's Eve) December 31
Throughout the country the devout attend religious services in the churches. At mldnight the bells ring and people hasten to the village squares to speed the Old Year and welcome the New with fireworks, blaring trumpets, and beating drums. In certain localities everyone goes to the rooftops at midnight, to recite appropriate improvised verses and "blow away" the dying year through megaphones. An almost universally observed custom is to pick and eat twelve grapes from a bunch of grapes, just as the bells strike twelve. This act is said to ensure twelve happy months in the coming year.
In some places little groups of masked children go about from house to house singing janeiras, or ancient New Year songs. The janeireiros, or singers, address their words to the owners of the house, praising them when generous, and insulting them when stingy with their traditional presents of wine, apples, sausages or nuts.