H is for Holidays

 “Dating at least from ancient Rome, the holiday was a time of public and communal celebration, a time to commemorate some event of civic or religious significance that all citizens participated in equally.” Barry Schwartz

There is one big difference between the public holidays here (or bank holidays as we call them in the UK) – in Portugal they take the holiday on whatever day the date falls – unlike in the UK where many holidays are moved to a Monday.

This takes some getting used to – yesterday was a public holiday – on a Wednesday!

The Portuguese have 13 public holidays a year (but see my comments later about shrinking them – denoted by a *) and they are a mixture of religious and secular days commemorating historic events or key events in the church’s calendar. There are also some differences with the UK – for example Easter Monday and Boxing Day are not holidays in Portugal.

Some of these public holidays are obvious and need little expansion – however others are more significant to the Portuguese nation – so I have enjoyed exploring these for you on this post … so that next time I hear a marching band in the next town, or see fireworks light up the sky – I’ll know why! (And the Portuguese love their fireworks!)

Fireworks 2

Public Holidays in Portugal 2012

Sunday 1st January – New Year’s Day

An obvious one – and a time for visiting family and friends – and walking on the beach in the sunshine! 

Tuesday 21st February – Carnaval (or Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras)

The day before Lent begins – a time for partying, eating, drinking and enjoying a street parade. You can find out more about Carnaval on my friend Restless Jo’s wonderful blog C is for Carnaval 


Friday 6th April – Good Friday

A time for quiet reflection; and for many the visit to a significant church service.

Good Friday

Sunday 8th April – Easter Sunday

A day to catch a church procession in full swing; remembering that Easter Monday is not a public holiday here in Portugal.

Wednesday 25th April – Freedom Day or Liberation day – Dia da Liberdade

This day is in remembrance of the 1974 revolution, a secular public holiday commemorating the Carnation Revolution, which brought an end to fascist rule in Portugal on April 25th, 1974. Wiki describes the day:

The name “Carnation Revolution” comes from the fact no shots were fired and when the population started descending the streets to celebrate the end of the dictatorship and war in the colonies, carnation flowers were put on the guns’ ends and on the uniforms. The military-led coup returned democracy to Portugal, ending the unpopular Colonial War where thousands of Portuguese soldiers had been conscripted into military service, and replaced the Estado Novo (New State) regime and its secret police.

rua 25 Abril

There are streets named after the 25 de Abril all over Portugal, but the most famous monument has to be the re-naming of the Salazar bridge in Lisbon – which is now known as the 25 de Abril Bridge, in honour of the day the revolution occurred.

Ponte 25 Abril

Picture from Wiki – click for link

Tuesday 1st May – Labour Day – Dia do Trabalho

Labour Day is usually celebrated with public gatherings and demonstrations, by civic groups, political parties, students and trade unions. In many countries this is known as International Workers’ Day and celebrates the labour and left-wing movements; and it is a national holiday for workers in many countries around the world. In the UK however it is simply known as May Day and stems from the ancient customs associated with the celebration of spring.

Last year in Portugal the day was the scene for many marches and protests for labour rights, the economy, and social justice. The CGTP labour union leader Manuel Carvalho da Silva was quoted as saying: “Never has social protest been more important.”

There is another local tradition in the Algarve on the 1st May which involves displaying wonderful and colourful – and often life-size – dressed up mannequins and models on the roadside. We will make sure we add some pictures to this post as soon as we can!

Thursday 7th June – Corpus Christi *

Corpus Christi is a Catholic feast celebrated on a Thursday, and celebrates the Eucharist, or the tradition of Holy Communion, in the Catholic Church.

Sunday 10th June – Portugal Day – Dia de Portugal

The Portuguese National Day commemorates the day the poet and soldier Luís de Camões died on the 10 June 1580.

Camões penned the epic poem ‘Os Lusíadas,’ which celebrates the achievements of the Portuguese in world explorations in the 16th century.

The day is a chance to celebrate and promote the culture, customs and traditions of this wonderful nation; and Portuguese people throughout the world will celebrate this day.

Portuguese dancing

Wednesday 15th August – Assumption Day*

This marks the Feast of the Assumption, a religious festival celebrating the Virgin Mary’s reception into heaven.

Friday 5th October – Republic Day – Dia da Republica *

This day celebrates the founding of the New Republic in 1910 and the ousting of the Portuguese monarchy, after more than two centuries of monarchical rule. The day is also known as the Implantação da República.

Portugal flag

Thursday 1st November – All Saints Day

All Saints’ Day is a time to honour all of the saints of the Catholic Church. It is also a day where local family tradition encourages people to visit cemeteries and lay down flowers in memory of those who have already passed on.

Saturday 1st December – Restoration of Independence Day *

Independence Day celebrates the restoration of Portuguese sovereignty in 1640 from the temporary rule of Spain.

Wiki describes this as follows: The Portuguese Restoration War was the name given by historians to the war between Portugal and Spain that began with the Portuguese revolution of 1640 and ended with the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668. The revolution of 1640 ended the sixty-year period of dual monarchy in Portugal and Spain by the Spanish Habsburgs.

Saturday 8th December – Immaculate Conception

This commemorates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and also marks the beginning of the Christmas church season. The devotion to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was brought to Portugal by D. Gilberto, the first Bishop of Lisbon, in 1166. In 1646, King D. João IV proclaimed that Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was to be the official patron saint of Portugal; meaning that the 8th December is also the patronal Feast Day of Portugal.

Tuesday 25th December – Christmas Day

Christmas Angels

You can find out more about Christmas through my post The 12 days of Christmas – Portuguese Style

2012 Public Holidays shortened

* Portuguese workers this year have lost two civil and two religious holidays as part of the austerity measures aimed at making the economy more competitive.

The two public holidays to be dropped are Republic Day celebrated on October 5th and Independence Day on December 1st.

Two religious holidays are also to be removed, Corpus Christi Day celebrated in June and Assumption Day on August 15, after these dates were agreed with the Catholic Church.

The government tried, in the name of austerity, to force the end of the Carnaval public holiday this year, but the country effectively shut down all the same as the Portuguese refused to go without their pre-Lent festival.

School Holidays

School Holidays are also different to the UK, for the 2011/12 academic year, the school holidays are as follows:
Christmas – 19 December 2011 to 2 January 2012
Carnival – 20 to 22 February 2012
Easter – 26 March to 9 April 2012
Summer – end of June to mid-September

The date that children return to school in September appears to be a negotiated date only communicated to parents a few days before the start of term! Perhaps they wait to check the weather forecast before they decide!

Saints’ Days

There are no national holidays for Portugal’s popular Saints (St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter) but they are combined into one giant week long party, called the Popular Saints’ Festival (the Festas dos Santos Populare) The main day for 2012 celebrations and carnival processions will be on Tuesday the 12th June.

Every village and town also has its own Saint, who is venerated in a special procession on one day of the year – so there is a good chance you will be able to catch a procession sooner or later – here is one we stumbled on one Sunday morning in a small village:

Saints procession

Mother’s and Father’s Day

Other unofficial holidays include Father’s day which this year was on Monday 19th March and Mother’s day the “Dia da Mãe” which is held each year on the first Sunday of May.


One thing is certain – even if some public holidays have been cancelled this year – the Portuguese love of carnival, festivals, music, dancing and fireworks; should ensure that there is an event somewhere near you to enjoy!



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7 Responses to H is for Holidays

  1. Pingback: H is for Holidays – Algarve Blog | My Personal A to Z Challenge

  2. Good post – I think we need more public holidays!

  3. restlessjo says:

    Great post Aly and thank you very much for my “ping”. I knew a fair bit of this but had not associated Portugal Day with Camoes. Didn’t know about the mannequins on May Day either- will look out for them. We’re going to Alte for the Folklore Festival.

  4. Fernanda says:

    Hi, your post it’s great and it’s so rewarding to see your interest for the country where you choose to live. I’ll make just a few corrections. Carnaval it’s not and never was an official national holiday, however the tradition was that each year the government confirmed the date as an holiday. The first to break this tradition was the actual President when he was prime minister in 1993, and on that year a national disobedience day really occurred. This year not that much, and the actual prime minister already announced that in 2013 there will not be a Carnaval holiday. 5 Outubro “the ousting of the Portuguese monarchy, after more than two centuries of monarchical rule” our monarchy started with the independence of Portugal in 1139 with Afonso Henriques so a lot more than 2 centuries. There was the “Filipes” interregnum but even then it was a monarchy. Santos Populares the main day it’s June 12 if the saint it’s Stº António like in Lisboa, for S. João it’s June 23 and this date it’s BIG at Porto, for S. Pedro it’s June 28 at Sintra for instance.

    • ferragudofan says:

      oh wow! thank you so much for sorting all of this out – you should come over and guest post for me on the blog!
      thank you for taking the time to read and comment .. and I will keep trying to blog faithfully for you

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