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Portuguese customs and traditions

Portugal is a country that's seen a congruence of diverse people over the millennia, all making their unique impact on its history and culture. However, it remains a largely homogeneous country with a predominantly Roman Catholic population, boasting many long-standing customs and traditions.

The unique calendar of cultural, musical and folklore festivals throughout the year, makes Portugal an interesting place to holiday.

You're almost certain to come across the long-standing musical tradition known as Fado, which highlights the melodic Portuguese accent in a melancholy, acoustic musical form. Here are some of Portugal's strongest traditions.

Traditional Portuguese festivals

Virtually every village, town and city in Portugal will put on some sort of festival, or festa, during the year.

These include regional harvest and folk festivals, as well as art and music events, with many held in the popular beach areas.

Some festivals are religious with a splattering of pagan rituals incorporated, with references to saints, lucky charms, miracles and superstitions. Every town and village also puts on a pilgrimage - or romarias - to honour their local saint.

The order of events is a mass followed by a procession through the streets with worshippers carrying a statue of the patron saint, while participants wear traditional costumes.

Most of the festivals incorporate dancing, wine, music and traditional Portuguese food, however some are relatively low-key while others have evolved into extravaganzas that last for days. These religious gatherings are a good way of connecting to the community and understanding more about Portugal.

A pilgrimage to Fatima

Portugal is home to one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in the world, Fatima. Located just outside the Algarve, this town is only second to Lourdes in importance, ever since the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1917.

Festivities go on for days with the main event on 13th May when a statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried through the central square in front of the Basilica. Remarkably, more than half a million pilgrims will show up on this day, some on ox carts, or even on donkeys.

Folklore at the heart of Portugal's traditions

Portugal has a rich history in literature, art, music and dance and it's through these art forms that Portuguese life and folklore is depicted. Many towns and villages throughout the country put on folk dance festivals showcasing their own unique folklore creations.

A variety of apparel is worn, from working clothes to formal garments, also representing the social standing of the community.

Some of the most famous regional dances are the chula, vira, corridinho, tirana and fandango, where couples perform an exciting dance, usually to the beat of hand clapping, guitars and accordions. Ask the locals if there will be any performances while you're there – they're usually performed in the main square.

Traditional Fado music

Fado music is revered in Portugal, so much so that when the so-called Queen of Fado, Amalia Rodriguez, passed away in 1999, three days of national mourning were declared. She was the leading female fadista – or Fado singer – during her career and popularised the genre worldwide.

Fado is the oldest and most prevailing style of music in Portugal and can be traced back to the 1820s.

It's a form of melancholic acoustic instrumental music, with lyrics that have pertinence even in this day and age. The music form has transgressed time and been incorporated into a more contemporary form by modern artists such as Mariza, a young and dynamic fadista.

When the fadista sings, he or she is telling a story, usually a lament about something sad that has passed and often unrequited love. Performed in tavernas or pubs, the fadista is dressed in black while the musicians are used to set the scene in the background.

There are some interesting quirks about watching Fado performers. If you attend a concert in Lisbon the custom is to applaud after a performance, however, if you're in the more northern city of Coimbra it's customary to cough as if you're clearing your throat.

Faro in the Algarve hosts an international music festival throughout May and June, where you can experience some traditional Fado music for yourself.

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