Most Portuguese people enjoy getting into the festive spirit, and not just at Christmas. Throughout the year, towns and villages across Portugal celebrate their local Saint’s Day with a festival that usually spans at least a weekend. If you spot a town festooned with garlands and bright lights and it’s nowhere near Christmas, chances are it’s em festa (in festival).
For the villages, this usually involves jaunty music piped from the church speakers day and night, as well as parades, live bands, community feasts and fundraising activities to pay for the next party.
In Lisbon, the patron Saint’s Day overlaps other cultural festivals resulting in about three weeks of festive fun in June. If you can be there on June 12th and 13th, all the better as this is when the sardines get grilled in the ancient streets of Alfama and people parade down the Avenida da Liberdade before launching into mega party mode.
Some festivals only happen once every two, or even four years. Mind you, if I was one of the women who parade the streets of Tomar balancing a tray laden with a tower of bread and flowers on their heads in the summer heat, I’d be reluctant to do it too often! It also takes a while to make all the flowers and displays, so there are several reasons why you’ll have to wait until 2015 to experience the next Festa dos Tabuleiros (Tray Festival).
In the meantime, you can experience the annual display of ugly babies, although I’m not sure how festive they’ll make you feel. Every Christmas, red banners with pictures of distorted cherubs hang from balconies across Portugal. Not mine, I hasten to add!
I much prefer the creative use of unconventional items to make Christmas decorations, like this umbrella display in Lisbon last year.