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Popular Saints' Festivals - Portuguese Traditions

The festivals related to the popular saints: Saint Anthony, Saint John and Saint Peter are celebrated on 13, 24 and 29 June. This month starts right away with the big "arraial" (Portuguese popular party), sardinhadas (grilled sardines’ meal), bailaricos (dance with musicians of Portuguese popular music), marches, balloons and "manjericos" (sweet basil) in several cities of the country. The cities are dressed in bright colours, and music resounds through the neighbourhoods and towns. The smell of grilled sardines wafts through the streets, and wine and beer accompany the celebrations. In June, we celebrate the Santos Populares (Popular Saints), a tradition that the Portuguese and many foreigners look forward to. In 2023, spend the Popular Saints season in Baía da Luz.

The origin of the celebrations around the three saints mentioned above goes back to Catholic traditions associated with the patron saints of towns and religious festivals. Over the years, however, the celebrations have become more inclusive and open to participation by all, regardless of an individual's religious beliefs. The confluence of folkloric and cultural elements typical of the country has contributed to the popular saints standing for the country. Want to know more about this popular Portuguese festival? Read to the end and take advantage of the next few days to enjoy the dances and marches in Lagos.

The popular saints: St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter

1. Saint Anthony

The story of Saint Anthony begins in Lisbon, where he was born between 1191 and 1195 under the name Fernando de Bulhões. When he joined the newly founded Franciscan Order, he changed his name to Anthony and travelled to Italy to preach the word to the "heretics". However, his mission was not very successful, so he decided to preach to the fishes, which inspired Father António Vieira to write "O Sermão de Santo António aos Peixes." Although he is known as the matchmaker saint, there is no certainty about the origin of this title. Several stories about this event have never been confirmed. However, the nickname became popular, and on 13 June in Lisbon, Saint Anthony sponsors 16 marriages that take place simultaneously. Saint Anthony celebrations take place in various cities in Portugal on the night of 12-13 June.

2. Saint John

He is the second saint to be celebrated in June, and the celebrations take place on a grand scale in northern Portugal. John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus and dedicated his life to proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and baptising people in the Jordan River. The celebrations take place on the night of 23-24 June, and the biggest festival is held in Porto. It is traditional to jump over a bonfire in odd numbers to ward off evil until the following year. On the night of São João, there are fireworks, Sanjoaninas waterfalls, balloons, leeks and small hammers. There is great excitement and animation in various towns that consider this saint their patron saint.

3. Peter

Peter, the third popular Portuguese saint, was the first pope of the Catholic Church, but before that, he was a fisherman named Simon in Galilee. He is now the patron saint of fishermen, and on 29 June, festivals are held in his honour in many coastal towns. However, there are inland towns that celebrate this saint, such as Évora, which has a municipal holiday on 29 June. Saint Peter's image contains some keys, and he is said to have guarded the gates of heaven.

The traditions of popular festivals

1. The popular marches

The popular marches mark the beginning of festivities across the country. Towns turn colourful, and participants dance to the rhythm of songs composed especially for this year's parade. Each neighbourhood or parish has its group competing for first place on the winner's podium on 12 June. In Lisbon, where this tradition originated, the neighbourhoods march along the Avenida da Liberdade.

The Lisbon marches have been a tradition in Lisbon since 1932, when José Leitão de Barros, the "father of popular marches", wanted to bring more attention to Parque Mayer. In the 1970s, the marches had almost died out, as they were considered a tradition associated with the Estado Novo (a political regime from the time of the Portuguese dictatorship). In the 1980s, the marches returned to the cities and continue to this day with the same splendour as then.

In Lagos, more precisely in Praça do Infante, the popular marches will take to the streets again in 2023. From 10 to 12 June, local marching groups will also take part in the celebrations in the city centre, such as the march Centro de Cultura e Desporto dos Trabalhadores da Câmara Municipal de Lagos or the march of the DUNA (Meia Praia) Community Centre. There will also be marching groups from Silves, Odemira, Torres Vedras and Portimão. You can find the programme of the Lagos Popular Saints here.

2. The Manjerico (Sweet Basil)

The sweet basil is known as the "herb of lovers" because, according to legend, on Saint Anthony's Day, lovers gave this plant to their girlfriends. It was the task of the girlfriends to take care of this tender plant until the following year. It is said that one should not smell the basil directly, i.e., one should not hold one's nose near the plant, but rather run one's hand over it and thus smell the aroma of this fragrant plant. Botanists say, however, that it is a myth that sniffing basil directly harms the plant. It is perfectly permissible to smell basil directly, which does not change the fact that basil is sensitive.

On the feast of the Popular Saints, the basil is adorned with a paper carnation and a flag bearing a popular love verse.


The Popular Saints in Portugal are festivals rooted in the country's tradition and culture. The celebrations in honour of Saint Anthony, Saint John and Saint Peter enliven the cities with festivals, marches and unique traditions. These celebrations, which go beyond the religious context, unite people of different origins and beliefs and provide moments of joy and sharing. The Popular Saints keep alive the cultural identity and joy of the Portuguese people. Be part of it and enjoy the holiday apartments in Baía da Luz.