Portugal Day or, to give it its full title, Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities Day, is a national holiday celebrated on 10th June and, as its name suggests, is a combined celebration of Portugal and all the Portuguese communities around the world and of Portugal’s most famous poet, Luís Vaz de Camões, who died on 10th June 1580.
Camões, who is known as the Portuguese Shakespeare, was a colourful character if everything that has been written about him is to be believed (which it isn’t!). His date of birth is unknown, but is estimated as 1524 and the facts of his life are sketchy, which has resulted in various myths developing about him. He was a member of the lower ranks of the aristocracy and after being exiled from Lisbon joined the army and fought in Morocco, where it is said he lost an eye. A few years later he was sent to India as a soldier to avoid a jail sentence and during this time was shipwrecked, where legend has it that he swam ashore holding the manuscript of his most famous poem, Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), above the water to save it. Os Lusíadas (published in 1572) is an epic poem which has many layers to it, written with reference to classical epic poems such as The Aeneid and The Odyssey. Its central subject is Vasco da Gama’s voyage to and discovery of India in 1498, resulting in a brief but glorious period where Portugal dominated the sea routes and trading points in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and South China seas. By the time Camões was in India, Portugal’s domination was in decline and it could be argued that Os Lusíadas was partly written to restore national pride.
Each year a city in Portugal is named by the President to be the host city of the official Portugal Day celebrations, which include military displays, political speeches and an awards ceremony at which the President bestows the Honorific Orders of Portugal to Portuguese people who have achieved personal success or have given distinguished service to Portugal. Throughout Portugal there are celebrations which include live music, firework displays and street parties. In some towns and cities the celebrations extend into the ‘Popular Saints’ celebrations: the festival of St Anthony (12th-13th June) in Lisbon, the festival of St John (23rd-24th June) in Porto and Braga, and the festival of St Peter (28-29th June) in various cities, such as Póvoa de Varzim, Sintra, Montijo and Évora. Portugal Day is also celebrated in cities around the world which have large Portuguese expatriate communities, including Toronto (Canada), London (UK), several cities in the USA, Brazil and Macau. In these communities the focus is on all things Portuguese, possibly more so than in Portugal itself, and there are parades, Portuguese folk music and dancing, concerts with popular Portuguese musicians, traditional Portuguese food and other cultural events.
In 2016 the Portuguese host city was Lisbon and the celebrations also extended to Paris.