Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Festival of Saint Anthony, Lisbon

By guest writer Susanne Koch

I have just returned from Lisbon, where I had the chance to experience the celebration of Portugal’s patron saint, Anthony. I had expected processions in the streets and church bells ringing. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

The feast of Saint Anthony is on June 13, but by then the main celebrations was done. They all took place the night before. The streets were filled with people – young and old. Down town, on Avenida de Liberdade, was a carnival style parade. In the Alfama neighborhood, where Saint Anthony was borne, every street was transformed into a movable feast.

The parade
My friends and I had planned to spend the evening in Alfama and around 5.30 we crossed Avenida de Liberdade on our way there. This is when we discovered the scope of the celebrations: Along the avenue, bleachers were erected for the spectators.

I asked a police officer when the parade would take place and he told me 8.30. Too bad, I thought. We would be dining with friends in Alfama around that time and would miss it all. Or so I thought.

After spending a great evening in Alfama (more about this below), we returned to our hotel around midnight. At this time, the parade was still going on and we learned the next morning that it didn’t finish until 1.30.

The participants in the parade were dressed up in colorful, creative and some times humorous costumes. There were plenty of bright colors, sequins and wigs. My favorite was a group wearing huge replicas of Portuguese explorers’ ships on their heads. Another group carried big, blinking carnations in every color of the rainbow in remembrance of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution.

The Alfama celebrations
Earlier in the evening, as we climbed the Alfama hill on our way to the castle, Castelo Sao Jorge, we saw the preparations for the celebrations:

Young people of the area were dressing up in historical costumes to represent their neighborhood in the parade. Others were setting up stalls and prepared to sell drinks like mojitos, caiprinas and sangria. Some were setting up little impromptu restaurants or snack bars.

By nightfall, the streets were absolutely crowded. It seemed everyone in possession of a barbecue was making some extra Euros that night. In every street and winding little ally in this charming neighborhood you could buy grilled sardines, spicy sausages (chouiços) pork or chicken.

Some stalls were even providing desert: Little plastic cups with arroz doce, a sweet rice pudding with cinnamon. These were almost as popular as the ubiquitous sardines, but a little sweet to my taste.

There was dancing in the streets – sweethearts young and old, mothers dancing with their babies and the odd tourist deciding to give it a try.

If you want to know more about St Anthony, there's an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia and one in Wikipedia.

Susanne Koch is an Internet professional who works as an e-learning and web communication adviser at the University of Oslo. She blogs about search engines and search engine optimization at Pandia.com. Susanne loves to travel and blogs about her journeys at Susi's Souvenirs. You may also want to have a look at Susanne Koch's homepage.

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