In traditionally Catholic countries like Portugal, saint days are important holidays for the local population and tradition, and can often be the best "festa" going. This is definitely the case with the Festa de Santo Antonio in Lisbon. What an experience! But first, a little history.
Saint Anthony was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões circa 1195, in Lisbon, Portugal, where he lived most of his life. When he later gained admission to the Franciscan order he took up the name Antonio (Anthony). He was venerated as Anthony of Padua or Anthony of Lisbon. Canonized in 1232 by Pope Gregory IX about a year after his death, St. Antonio was the most quickly-canonized saint in history.
His dedicated church is Sant'Antonio di Padova in northeastern Italy, which contains what is said to be his tongue -- an important relic, as he was distinguished as a great orator (still, seeing his tongue is pretty freaky, I must admit. And people line up for it).
Among many other things, St. Antonio is the patron saint of harvests, lower animals, pregnant women, and oppressed people. He's also the patron saint of mariners, lost articles, travelers and mail: 4 things interestingly, that seem inherently linked (especially "lost articles" and "mail" in Italy...). And lastly, St. Antonio is the saint of LOVE in Portugal and Brazil - especially new love, newlyweds, and lost loves who find each other again, as legend states that acted as conciliator to couples.
St. Antonio died 13 June, 1231, so June 13th is the
Festa de Santo Antonio
in Lisbon -- a municipal holiday.
Newlywed couples give thanks and singles pray for a match made in heaven (the previous day, June 12, is the Brazilian Valentine's Day).
The festa is celebrated with parades and, since the 1950's, marriages of a handful of "modest" young couples who receive the blessing of Saint Anthony in one large ceremony, the "Santo Casamenteiro" at the historical Sé Cathedral in the ancient Alfama neighborhood.
This also correlates with another tradition for couples and Lisboners looking for love, with the gift of
to that special someone. These little potted plants of newly sprouted Basil (for a newly sprouted love) are given as gifts throughout June, wrapped in red ribbon. Less traditionally, drunken
wear flourescent green wigs with a red headband to signify this Manjerico, and hit each other with big red plastic hammers that squeak on impact -- something decidedly un-endearing, resembling dog toys.
Manjerico que te deram,
Amor que te querem dar…
Recebeste o manjerico.
O amor fica a esperar.
Basil that was given to you,
(Is) Love that is wanted to be given to you….
You received this basil.
The love is waiting.
After a colorful parade down the city's main artery, the streets of Lisbon are full of people celebrating in every neighborhood -- but in particular, the Alfama and area around Sé Cathedral are the heart of the festa. Music is in the air. Every restaurant, bar, and storefront sets up stalls and grills for the traditional "poor food" of the festa: sardines and pork. When slapped on a bun, these sandwiches are called Sardinha no Pão and Entremeada no Pão.
The popularity of Lisbon's large, meaty sardines during this time is a tribute to Santo Antonio’s legendary “sermon to the fish” in Padua, and also because it's high season for the healthy, omega-3-rich fish. The cut of pork traditionally used is called entremeada , and is considered the fattiest cut of ribs possible. All this great street food is washed down with cold beer, caipirinhas, sangria, and ginja (a local cherry-flavored liquor - delish). The only negative is the lack of bathroom access -- possibly worse than Mardi Gras in New Orleans -- otherwise, I highly recommend planning a trip to Lisbon around June 13th. They do their local saint proud.