In Europe, Halloween isn’t celebrated anywhere near as much as it is in the US. People don’t decorate the outside of their houses, the halloween candy section in supermarkets is very small, and it’s rare to see adults in costume.
That’s starting to change a little. It still isn’t a major holiday on the Portuguese calendar — but then again, it can feel like Christmas isn’t as hyped here as it is in other countries — but it’s becoming more and more popular. These days, however, you’ll see posters across Lisbon, Porto, and other major cities advertising Halloween Parties and special events. Depending on where you live in Portugal, you may even get a few tick-or-treaters knocking on your door as well (or not: it’s still quite rare).
Obviously, this is all America’s doing. Children in Portugal are simply copying what they see on television and in films, and adopting those customs into Portuguese culture.
Or, maybe they’re not. While it may feel like Halloween is becoming more and more of a big deal in Portugal, the reality is Halloween has actually always existed here in some form or another. You might have to scratch the surface to find these traditions and customs, but they’re definitely there. If anything, Halloween is simply having a bit of a revival.
Halloween Traditions in Portugal
Although Halloween isn’t a very celebrated holiday in Portugal, there are some traditions that are much more Portuguese than American.
Trick-or-treating is probably the tradition that’s most commonly associated with Halloween. In America and in other countries that celebrate Halloween, children go door-to-door begging for sweets, money, and whatever else they can get.
In some part of Portugal, it’s common for children to go door-to-door (especially their relatives’ doors) asking for bread (Pão-por-Deus). They knock and recite a verse like this one:
Ó tia, dá Pão-por-Deus? Se o não tem Dê-lho Deus!
Pão por Deus, Fiel de Deus, Bolinho no saco, Andai com Deus.
The concept – which has quite a few different names including Dia do Bolinho, santorinho, bolinho, or fiéis de Deus – is essentially trick-or-treating. Children can expect to get pomegranates, cakes, sweets, chestnuts, and walnut and dried fruit biscuits.
Sometimes, the relatives like to pretend that they have nothing to give.
Olha foram-me os ratos ao pote e não me deixaram farelo nem farelote.
(Sorry! The rats ate all of my food)
This is all part of the game, and the children respond with mini threats until the goodies are delivered. This probably sounds quite similar. After all, in America children say:
Trick or treat, smell my feet give me something good to eat. If you don’t, I don’t care. I’ll pull down your underwear!
Then there’s the pumpkin carving, which is a tradition in certain parts of Portugal like Beira in Northern Portugal. Pumpkins in this part of Portugal are known as coca or coco, and are named after the mythical monster with the same name.
Portugal, especially the northern parts of Portugal, is home to a number of different pagan festivals like Festa da Cabra e do Canhoto in Cidões. Given that a lot of modern day Halloween traditions and beliefs come from other Celtic countries, it’s not surprising that there are a lot of similarities.
One tradition you’re likely to spot regardless of where you are in the country, however, is the annual cleaning of the relatives’ cemetery plots which takes place on November 1st.
November 1st, the day of Saints and Martyrs, is a big day in the Portuguese calendar. If you wander past your local cemetery, you’ll find it packed with locals who are all eager to make sure their relatives’ resting places are looking good. Bleach, a Portuguese favourite for just about everything from cleaning to washing vegetables, is the weapon of choice and there’s always a strong smell of it in the air.
Outside of the cemetery, you’ll often find flower vendors selling chrysanthemums for the graves, along with a few Portuguese street food vendors selling things like roasted chestnuts and farturas. During the day, and in the evening, you may also spot services taking place in the graveyards.
While it can be hard to find some of Portugal’s other Halloween traditions, this is one that you’ll find just about everywhere in Portugal.
Depending on where you’re living, you’ll likely find a few Halloween-themed events, both for adults and kids, particularly in cities or areas with lots of expats like Lisbon, Porto, and parts of the Algarve like Albufeira or Lagos.