All Saints’ Day (Dia de Todos os Santos) is a Christian festival which is observed in Portugal, as in many other Catholic countries, as a public holiday. As the name suggests, it is a feast day for all the saints, but in particular for those who don’t have a feast day at other times of the year. On this day Catholics attend a Mass and then visit the cemetery where family members are buried to lay flowers and light candles on their graves (which will have been cleaned in preparation) to guide their way into heaven, combining All Saints’ Day with All Souls’ Day (Dia de Todas as Almas) which is on 2nd November, but is not a public holiday in Portugal. The cemeteries are a hive of social activity on this day.
While Halloween is not really celebrated in Portugal, in some rural parts of the country there is a tradition reminiscent of ‘Trick or Treat’ which happens on the morning of All Saints’ Day where groups of children go from house to house in their neighbourhood asking for Pão por Deus (Bread for God’s sake). The children sing songs or recite verses such as: ‘Bolinhos e bolinhós/Para mim e para vós/Para dar aos finados/Qu’estão mortos, enterrados.’ (‘Cakes and buns/For me and for you/To give to the departed/That are dead, buried.’) They are rewarded with a piece of sweet bread, cake, fruit, nuts, sweets or even money. 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 9.40 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 this day (this includes some museums) and public transport runs to a reduced timetable. However, large shopping centres and shops in tourist areas should be open as usual. Churches will be closed to tourists while Mass is taking place.