Happy Easter (Feliz Páscoa in portuguese) lovely readers! (if you don’t celebrate it, then happy Sunday and hopefully you’ll still enjoy this article!)
First of all, I’d like to say that I never cared much for Easter. Since I entered adulthood, Easter was just a nice break to travel.
I’m indeed a Catholic in paper, since, as many other children, I was baptised when I was very young (I think I was four years old? I only remember trying to run away from the party at my house in a tricycle because I was tired of people…yup, a weird child I know). But actually, I was baptised quite late according to conventional practice. Typically you’re out of the womb are immediately baptised, but my circumstances were a bit different.
Still, both my parents being Catholics, I was indeed baptised. My grandparents particularly were and are quite religious. But even though I am Catholic on paper, I do not consider myself a religious person. I was in Sunday school for ten years (typical amount of time in Portugal) and I hated it to the bone. I just don’t believe in God or Gods for that matter. Some of my closest friends do and call me the heretic as a joke. But, please, note one thing:
I want to make it very clear, I do not judge people by their religion. I think we all have the right to choose our faith and believe whatever we want to believe in, as long as that doesn’t affect anyone’s rights. I’m very tolerant myself. I’m just not a believer. Never was and probably never will be. All it matters is that you’re a good person, and I don’t think being religious automatically puts someone in that category.
In pre-school I remember going for an egg hunt. But being the extremely introverted child I was, I was just in my little corner trying no to get noticed. But there are many other traditions here in Portugal that are probably unique in a way, or at least I didn’t find when was living in the UK.
No meat allowed in your mouth on Good Friday
During Good Friday (which here it’s called Sexta-Feira Santa, literally translating to Saint Friday) you’re not supposed to eat meat.
This rule is so rooted in the Portuguese Catholic society that my mum almost passed out when I suggested meat for lunch last Friday (I forgot about the rule). The Catholic Church preaches that Good Friday is a day reserved for the practice of abstinence and it is indeed opposed to eating either red or white meat – so people typically eat fish instead. However, I find this strange. Abstinence is abstinence and this practice likely has its origins in the Middle Ages, when people were supposed to abstain from eating anything at all every single Friday, and simply fast.
But why meat? So this is where it gets a bit morbid. It is seen as an act of respect to Jesus Christ’s bloodshed during his sacrifice. So yeah, how nice, to look at a nice piece of meat and think about the poor guy bleeding to death. BUT others also add that complete abstinence is a way to further yourself from sin. But when I was in Sunday school actually trying to learn something, this whole idea sounded alien to me. So what, not eating meat? Big deal, I actually prefer fish anyway. Complete abstinence… that is a sacrifice. But it’s incredibly dangerous for your health and it disrespects so many of those who are barely able to put food on their table on a daily basis… Wouldn’t it be more charitable if we dedicated ourselves to help others? To actually feed who is hungry? Help who is struggling? At this time I was still getting to know this Jesus guy… and for some reason, I think he would have liked my idea more.
Sunday Easter means a visit to your Godfather and Godmother – to get the “folar”
So, when you’re baptised, your parents elect a couple of people (typically a man and a woman, which is extremely old fashioned by the way) to be your godparents. No, not Don Corleone style of Godfather, or the magical Godmother of Cinderella. These are just two people who your parents trust enough to be your guardians if something happens to them and you become an orphan.
On Easter, your Godparents are supposed to give you a “folar” a word that I cannot find the translation for in English but in means a gift that is typically cash and perhaps some sweet almonds or a big Easter Egg. This was not weird to me until I told about it so some of my foreign friends and they were a bit shocked. That cash was typically saved to buy some useful things like clothing so, as a kid, being given cash was a bit underwhelming. I ended up saving it to buy books as my parents never let me buy a PlayStation *which I’m very grateful for btw*. I would also (my parents would) buy some flowers for me to give to my Godmother and some chocolates to give to my Godfather. The tradition says your Godparents will stop gifting you with money once you get married (again old fashion alert) but I simply just told them to stop once I started working and got independent, basically before I turned 20 years old. Otherwise, they would be giving me money every year for the rest of my life! Still, it a visit is still expected (not now, with Covid).
The Folar da Páscoa (Easter Bread)
This can get confusing. But “folar” is also the name given to a traditional Easter cake here in Portugal. There are many different recipes and it varies with the region you’re from. The one I’m used to consists of a loaf of sweet bread, made with flour, sugar, eggs and perhaps honey. In middle, a whole boiled egg with the shell still one is added.
We like Chocolate Eggs… but it’s more about the Almonds
As a kid, I would love to get huge Easter eggs with a surprise toy inside. But actually, almonds coated in sugar and chocolate are the real thing. I personally don’t care much for sugar-coated almonds, but absolutely love the chocolate covered ones. Unfortunately, this year, I’m wearing braces, so I’ve been cutting the almonds in little halves to be able to eat them. Yes, that is how much I love them. I make a mess, but well. I have time to clean up.
In a small village, you may get a visit from the priest in your house (or you would before covid)
Only if you want to, of course. And how do you announce you’re welcoming the priest? By leaving some kind of fresh hay at the entrance of your house (at least in my village). This is a very old, medieval tradition that is dying out as the population grows and it is impossible for the priest in person to visit every single house. It starts on Easter Sunday and it is typically prolonged by at least another week. The priest visits your home with his assistants to bless your house and your family members. You’re expected to kiss a crucifix and to give them a donation.
For many reasons (me not being a believer, me not wanting to put my lips where many others have, me not wanting strangers in my house and not wanting to donate money to such an extremely wealthy organisation) this is something we actually never practice at my parents’ house. I think maybe once when I was really little.
And I think these are the main things. I know traditions do differ in Portugal depending on where you are living. But in a nutshell, Easter here is very deeply rooted in Christianism. And bunnies, while very cute, are not really what the Church wants you to be thinking of… especially because we all know what these bunnies are all about 😉😜
Hope you enjoyed this article! I would love to learn about your Easter traditions – so please comment down below 🙂