Today (1st November) is All Saints’ Day and a National Public Holiday here in Portugal. All Saints’ Day is a religious festival celebrated in honour of all the Christian saints. Catholic Churches, Protestant Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches participate in this day. During All Saints’ Day people attend mass and cemeteries are filled with families who clean the gravestones of their loved ones and leave pretty fresh floral arrangements and lighted candles. It always falls on 1st November and as it is a National Public Holiday it allows people to have the day off of work so they can attend mass no matter what day it falls on. Some common symbols for All Saints’ Day include a sheaf of wheat, the crown and the hand of God. Statues and pictures of various saints are also popular symbols that relate to this day. 

One theory is that this All Saints’ Day tradition started in Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755, as it was on 1st November of that year that the Great Lisbon Earthquake destroyed the city leaving those who survived desperate for food. The earthquake hit Lisbon at 9.40am in the morning, when people were in church for the All Saints’ Day Mass, and what the earthquake didn’t destroy the subsequent fires started by the church candles did. Banks, post offices and other public services are closed on All Saints’ Day. Some large shopping centres and shops in tourist areas should be open as usual. Churches will be closed to tourists while Mass is taking place.

All Saints’ Day is celebrated with children knocking door to door and asking “Pão-por-Deus” (Bread for God’s sake). In some parts of the country it is called Dia do Bolinho, Santorinho, or Fiéis de Deus. Although this tradition has some similarities to Halloween, children only go in the morning of November 1st and do not wear costumes. Traditionally children visit neighbours’ houses and receive fruits such as pomegranates, cakes, sweetbreads, sweets, chestnuts, walnuts and dried fruit biscuits.

All Saints’ Day is followed by Dia dos Fiéis Defuntos (All Souls’ Day) on 2nd November (which is not a public holiday) and is often known as Day of the Dead. This is a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died, it’s a day to pay respects to the departed. All Saints’ Day is the holy day with religious obligations, while All Souls’ Day has personal rituals but no religious obligations.

I will be reflecting on these days and saying a little prayer for my loved ones who have departed, especially my amazing mum who was taken far too early and my best friend Sue who was taken 11 years ago. As a friend once told me, they are both looking down on me and celebrating in all my achievements here in Portugal.

Here is a photo of my local Cemetery just down the road from our casa. It is beautiful and the 2 gigantic trees either side of the gates amaze me every time I pass by.