All Saints Day and Halloween in Portugal

Azulejo 28For those of you who are celebrating – happy Halloween! In my own tradition we say “Samhain Blessings”. Samhain means ‘Summer’s End’. November 1st is a public holiday in Portugal as it is All Saints’ Day. All Saints Day exists in England, as well as All Souls on 2nd November. From talking with Portuguese folk and researching on the internet, it seems as though Halloween (O Dia das Bruxas) is not really celebrated in Portugal although I can see there are scattered celebrations mostly from in-comers. Portugal’s public holidays are governed by the Catholic and political calender so it is All Saint’s that takes precedence.

Halloween in its present incarnation of scary costumes and pumpkins, is really a recent invention but much is based on pre-Christian Pagan traditions. In England these traditions stem from Celtic times. The Irish influx into America carried with it the Old Ways and beliefs and these developed into the practices we see today – from apple bobbing to pumpkins to ghost stories and treat-or-treat.

In the distant past, Christianity introduced a festival (All Saints) which took place on the 13th of May but by the 10th century this festival had been moved to November 1st in the hope that it would replace the traditional celebrations of the country people. Commonly called All Hallows, on all Hallows Eve people would pray for the Saints and Martyrs. All Hallows Eve has been shortened to Halloween. On All Souls Day prayers are said for the souls of the dead.

In Portugal, it is traditional to honour the dead by cleaning graves, laying flowers and baking sweet cakes with cinnamon. In itself this is not vastly different from the Pagan traditions. Chestnuts and wine are served in the open air, children sing from door to door.

If you look outside – if you walk outside, You can see and feel that Winter is coming. There’s a bite in the air, the leaves are falling, plants that aren’t hardy are dying off.  Maybe you want to sleep more or eat more. At night in England you can see your breath. Breath is life. Winter shows us what is usually invisible. The landscape is stark. There’s no hiding place. The death and decay in the natural world remind us of our own mortality.

It is natural therefore that Samhain is The Festival for the Dead and that other faiths are also drawn to remember the dead at this time of year. Now is the time that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thin.

As Portugal celebrates All Saints and All Souls, I celebrate Samhain. In truth there is a common element despite our different religions and geographies. Each of us remembers those who have passed, the people and four-footed friends we have loved. Portugal remembers too that November 1st is the anniversary of the great Earthquake that almost completely destroyed Lisbon and killed up to 100,000 people in 1755.

In truth, it’s a time to feast, make merry and make love. It is a time when we can challenge fear and fear of change, when we can re-connect with the season and the land and ourselves. It is a time to cast-off and cast-out, get rid of debts and clutter. It’s a time to break old habits,  an opportunity to take a good look at yourself. It’s time to take note of your dreams at night for they will offer you information you need. It’s a time for transformation. It’s time for magic.

Here are 13 Halloween themed words in Portuguese

Witch – Bruxa
Ghost – Fantasma
Fright – Susto
Skeleton – Esqueleto
Dream – Sonho
Dead – Morto
Pumpkin – Abóbora
Apple –  Maçã
Candle – Vela
Winter – Inverno
Prayer – Oração
Grave – Sepultura
Soul – Alma


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