Halloween in Portugal is becoming more popular year after year, as you can see in store windows and the excitement of children who are adapting to the customs of this Anglo-Saxon celebration. However, the reality is that in Portugal tradition is still strong, and the majority of the population still celebrates ancient rituals.
Every year, the Portuguese celebrate All Saint’s Days on the 1st of November, a national holiday in Portugal and a very important festivity for many Roman Catholic countries.
From North to South, the Portuguese celebrate November 1st by joining family and friends to honour the loved ones who have passed. For those who are Catholic, it is also a day to pay homage to saints, martyrs and other important Christian figures.
This holiday has been celebrated for centuries, first by the pagans and then by Christians. Today, it is celebrated with different rituals around the world, and the Portuguese traditions are also very unique.
All Saint’s Day in Portugal: honouring the past, while celebrating the present
Although many shops, cafés and restaurants are open on November 1st, all public services, schools and most businesses close during this national holiday.
Families usually start the day by visiting the cemetery, decorating the graves of their loved ones with bouquets of flowers and lighting candles. By the time the sun sets, cemeteries in Portugal will be filled with colour and during the night the lit candles shine on the tombstones of all those who are still remembered.
During the afternoon, the festivities continue in true Portuguese style: at the table, of course! Families gather at home to eat seasonal foods and snacks, including walnuts, roasted chestnuts, almonds, dried figs, etc. But for children, the highlight of the day is another century-old tradition, known as "Pão por Deus" (bread fo God).
The tradition of Pão por Deus
Children usually enjoy this holiday by going door to door to ask for “Pão por Deus”. In some regions of Portugal, this tradition has different rituals:
In the region of Trás-os-Montes, instead of "Pão por Deus" children ask for “Pão das Almas”;
In some parts of central Portugal, the day is known as "Dia do Bolinho" and children say "Ó tia, dá bolinho" when they knock on doors. The traditional "bolinho" is a small cake, also known as "broa" or "broinha", usually made of dried nuts, olive oil, honey and other seasonal delicacies;
In other regions of Portugal, godparents offer their godchildren a small cake called "santoro".
In the old days, children asking for "Pão por Deus" would receive walnuts, chestnuts and seasonal fruits such as apples or pomegranates. However, as Portugal has become more open to other nationalities and cultures, some people have also started to hand out candy or other sweets in an imitation of Halloween traditions.
Usually, small children visit their neighbourhood in groups, accompanied by adults. This age-old tradition brings the community together and celebrates the joy the Portuguese have in sharing food and welcoming neighbours.
Similarities between "Pão por Deus" and Halloween
Unlike what many people believe, Halloween did not originate in the United States but in Europe. Many centuries ago, “Samhain”, a Gaelic word that would later become “Halloween” in English, was celebrated by the Celtics, especially in countries such as Ireland or Scotland. Among the rituals that were part of this pagan celebration, the one most people will recognise involves knocking on neighbours’ doors while wearing masks and asking for food.
Throughout history, different versions of this ancient custom were adopted throughout the world, with the majority of Catholic countries changing the date and rituals to shift the celebration away from pagan traditions.
Today, the main differences between Halloween and the Portuguese "Pão por Deus" include:
The date: Halloween is celebrated on the night of October 31st, "Pão por Deus" is on the morning of November 1st;
Costumes: Contrary to Halloween where children dress-up in costumes and carry pumpkin-inspired baskets, children asking for "Pão por Deus" will wear regular clothing and carry more traditional bags. These homemade textile bags will often be decorated with autumn themes or made from fabric scraps. As a way of keeping this tradition alive, most primary schools in Portugal help children make these bags as a crafts project the week before All Saints' Day!
Although Halloween is not a traditional festivity in Portugal, recently more and more people are getting interested in celebrating it, especially younger generations who love wearing scary costumes and receiving candy!
Celebrating All Saints' Day in Portugal
The Portuguese are known for their hospitality, welcoming foreigners around local spots and introducing them to amazing cuisine and traditions. If you’re in Portugal during this time, especially in more rural areas, you will surely find people celebrating this festivity. Don't be surprised if you're invited to join them!
The food is simple but delicious, and the Portuguese people are very kind and love to share. They won’t expect you to bring anything, but a simple "obrigado" and, if you’d like, a small gift such as a bottle of Portuguese wine is very appreciated.