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a tradition continues
With the already blooming jacaranda trees lining the streets throughout Lisbon and painting the ground with a vibrant carpet of purple, is it possible for the city to get even more colourful? The answer.
Welcome to Festas dos Santos Populares, a month-long celebration.
This past weekend you may have already started to feel the festive energy in the many neighbourhood streets. With the colourful streamers and tinsel criss-crossing from building to building, the firing up of charcoal grills and the distinguishable sounds of Portugal’s popular music.
It’s always great to see old traditions stay alive and even better when it's shared and embraced by Lisbon’s diverse fabric. I mean, who doesn’t like a street-party and the opportunity to celebrate your neighbourhood community all in the name of a city’s patron saint. But wait, what is this really all about?
What is Santos Populares?
Santos Populares, popular saints, is a time to celebrate three of Portugal’s saints: Lisbon’s patron saint of blessings, St. Anthony (Santo António Casamenteiro); the patron saint of Porto, St. John (São João) and the patron saint of fishermen, St. Peter (São Pedro).
In Lisbon, S. António is traditionally celebrated across 12 and 13 June. On 12 June, 16 couples have a simultaneous wedding called Casamentos de Santo António. The chosen couples have their wedding expenses paid by the city council. When night hits, Avenida da Liberdade turns into a sea of bright colours of costumes and traditional music with the Desfile das Marchas Populares. Each neighbourhood is represented by a group competing to win the prestige of the best neighbourhood presentation, a competition between more than 20 neighbourhoods. The judging is done a week before and is based on the costumes and dance routine. The parade is also led by the couples of the Casamentos de Santo António. The night doesn’t stop there, as the celebrations run through the city’s streets with street parties, arraiais, that go late into the night (or early morning hours, depending how you see it).
The 13 June is the city’s official holiday celebrating the day Santo António was born. Head over to the Church of S. António in Alfama where the traditional procession commences.
But why so many pots of basil?!
S. António is also known as the patron of all lovers, helping those in search for a future husband or wife. The offering of a pot of basil to a girlfriend or boyfriend with a short love poem attached, is another tradition that is part of the celebrations.
Porto celebrates its own patron saint, São João, on 23 and 24 June with their own traditions that have taken a modern twist. Originally, you may have found yourself being hit over the head with a leek (alho francês), which were also put at the back of street doors for protection, but now you’ll see the more common plastic hammer taking its place. Fireworks, hot air balloons and a morning dip in the river Douro are some of the traditional activities of the city for this saint.
And finally, the celebration of São Pedro (St. Peter), the patron saint of fisherman, takes place on 29 June around the country, especially in Póvoa de Varzim for the Noite de São Pedro.
Let’s not forget, 10 June is also Portugal Day (Dia de Portugal, de Camões e das Comunidades Portuguesas) and Corpus Christi (Corpo de Deus). A day that celebrates one of Portugal’s greatest poets, Luis Camões, and independence from Spain in 1640. So as you can see, June is truly a month of festivities.
One of the best things about Santos Populares is that every neighbourhood has their street party, which means you won’t need to go far to experience the celebrations and traditions of Santos Populares because it’s happening right at Mila’s doorstep.
What’s happening in Santos?
Because this year 12 and 13 June fall on a Monday and Tuesday, this means celebrations will start on Friday, 9 June, making this a big weekend of colours, music, food and parades.
Trek no further than the Santos-o-Velho church courtyard, where the neighbourhood will have its very own arraial taking place each weekend throughout June with a number of local restaurants selling some of their most popular dishes. And of course, don’t miss the most important weekend.
From Friday, 9 June to Tuesday, 13 June, to accompany the party your taste buds are having with the dishes served by restaurants such as Esperanto, Quiosque de São Paulo, Secret Oven Pizza, and more, your kids will also have the opportunity to enjoy the kids corner play area and take part in fun workshops and activities. And of course, Santos Populares is only complete with pimba music, which will be happening from 19h-22h, that will get everyone on their feet.
Organised by Santos Collective, the June festivities at Santos-o-Velho are an opportunity to raise awareness and support for its charity activities and enjoy your neighbourhood community, offering a little something for everyone.
Check out the programme here and keep your finger (or thumb) on the ready, as new activities will be announced on its Instagram profile.
And if your feet are tired and want a more comfortable option, but still be part of the street buzz, take a seat in Mila’s terrace at the weekend and enjoy Mila by night.