Popular Saints festivities 🎈 in Portugal

World to Explore Travel Blog - Itinerary Portugal São João Santo António Festas Populares

In June the temperature heats up 🌡️, summer arrives and the streets of the most typical districts of Portugal fill up with lots of color! It’s the month of Popular Saints with festivals all over the country on the nights of Santo António, São João and São Pedro. These are the three most celebrated popular saints festivities by the Portuguese people from the 12th to the 29th of June. People go out on the streets to eat, drink and have fun with their traditions, that are different throughout the country. But there are common things: the cheerful colors, the joy and the music 🎶. You can hear the kind of music that is characteristic of these celebrations here.

Of these three Popular Saints festivities I only celebrate São João because it’ s the tradition of my city, Porto. However, I usually celebrate other saints, in smaller towns, such as Sr. de Matosinhos (in Matosinhos), Nossa Senhora do Bom Despacho (in Maia) and Nossa Senhora da Nazaré (in the Espinho / Aguda area).

🎈 Santo António (13th June)

Santo António was named under the name Fernando de Bulhões and was born in Lisbon, between 1191 and 1195. Educated in a noble family to be a knight, in his adolescence he realized that this wasn’t what he wanted and dedicated himself to preaching the scriptures. In the middle of his life, he moved to Italy more precisely, Padua, where he tried to preach the Catholic word to the “heretics”, but it wasn’t successful. Because of that, Santo António decided to preach to the fish, since nobody else deigned to listen to him. The book of St. Anthony’s Sermon to Pisces was based on this (click here to see this book). Santo António died on the 13th of June and that is why it became Santo António Day.

Unfortunately I never celebrated Santo António but I would love to go to Lisbon one time and see how it is (last year I was in Lisbon the week before Santo António). There are several funny traditions: the weddings of Santo António, the popular marches that run along Avenida da Liberdade, the parties in the different neighborhoods of the city,… I usually see the parade of popular marches on television and I really like it. Lisbon has several neighborhoods such as Alfama, Graça, Bica, Mouraria, Madragoa and many others! All these neighborhoods enter the competition and create their popular march. At the end of the night, the best march is announced.

🎈 São João (24th June)

São João is a Christian celebration that commemorates the birth of João Batista, a prophet who predicted the advent of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ and baptized him. The Gospel According to Luke states that São João was born near Jerusalem about six months before Jesus so the São João celebration was fixed on June 24, six months before Christmas Eve. Despite being the most celebrated saint in Porto, São João is not the patron saint of the city. In fact, the city patron saint is Nossa Senhora da Vandoma.

I celebrate São João every year. Usually I go to Porto or Gaia to eat a chorizo bread or a hamburger/hot dog. The typical food is sardines but on the night of São João there is so much people and bustle in the city that it’s very rare to eat that. São João is incredible! I really like the party and walking with the plastic hammer down the street hitting people’s heads (I feel like a 5 year old child that night).  A few years ago we were celebrating São João at my uncles’ house, whose house had a large terrace where we decorated everything, put music and made the roasted sardines and a barbecue (with fevers and spare ribs). In the last few years I’ve been going with my parents and my godparents to Caís de Gaia to see the fireworks 🎉 at midnight. My godfather celebrates his birthday on the 24th (on the holiday of São João).

There are several elements that characterize São João: plastic hammers, leek garlic, balloons that we launch into the air and the basil pots. I don’t think I forgot any of the important ones! The plastic hammer is a mandatory accessory for that night to be distributed and to get hammered in the head while walking down the streets. Leek garlic is annoying because it smells bad. There are several people who have leeks and try to lean on the people noses. Balloons are also a tradition although there have been some years when they were not allowed because of forest fires. In the night of São João there are thousands of balloons on the sky and it’s so beautiful! Lastly, the basil pots are also very common. People usually buy a vase to have at home and each vase has a flag with a poem.

🎈 São Pedro (29th June)

São Pedro was an apostle of Jesus and one of his first disciples. He is considered the founder of the Christian Church in Rome and its first pope. Hence the main basilica of the Vatican is called St. Peter’s Basilica.

Although São Pedro is celebrated in Gaia (which is on the other side of the Douro River in Porto) I never went to this celebration. Maybe one day. There’s a first time for everything.

This year’s Popular Saints celebrations were all canceled in Portugal 😥 because of COVID-19. So, unfortunately, I’m not going to celebrate São João. This year will be different in every way – it will be a remarkable year. I hope that next year everything will return to normal and that the music, the color, the joy and the excitement can return to the streets at popular festivals across the country.

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