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Why is May 1st a holiday in Portugal?

portugalIn Portugal, the 1 May celebration ("Primeiro de Maio") was harshly repressed during the right-wing dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar and Marcelo Caetano.

Since the Carnation Revolution on 25 April 1974, Worker's Day (Dia do Trabalhador) is celebrated by unions but as well by several leftist political parties with parades and demonstrations.

The first demonstration after the Carnation Revolution, only one week after the fall of the Caetano government and the Novo Estado regime, remains the biggest demonstration in the history of Portugal.

May 1st is an opportunity for workers, including non-permanent workers' groups, to show their discontent for existing working conditions in parades all over the country but mainly in the capital, where the two main national union federations organise rallies.

May 1st also is a traditional 'start of spring' holiday in Portugal and a day for protecting homes from evil for the year ahead by packing sprigs of yellow broom into doors and windows to ward off the devil for the rest of the year, writes www.acapucha.com

In Portugal's north, tradition dictates that on the night of April 30th yellow flowers known as “Maias” are placed on the doors, windows and balconies of every house. This is how the month of May is welcomed and how we avoid that the “evil eye” slips through keyholes and crannies.

According to popular belief, the flower ornaments made with “Maias” serve to fight off “Maio”, “Carrapato” or “Burro”, depending on the different regions of the country. What better defence is there to ward off evil spirits than to gather branches of these wild and dense flowers, which put fear in the devil himself?

The abundance of this shrub on the slopes of Portugal's mountains has many considering it a weed, but ancestors saw in it unique characteristics to make, by hand, strong and resistant brooms. And this is precisely why the “Maias”, an autochthonous species with the scientific name Cytisus striatus, became known, in English, as Portuguese Broom.

The origin of this spring custom is uncertain. Legend has it that “Maia” was a rye straw doll, around which people danced on the night of April 30th to May 1st. According to others, the name of the month of May is due to Maia, Mother of Mercury, the goddess of fertility and rebirth.

Apparently, this celebration could have been from the time of the Roman empire, where they celebrated the arrival of spring and the first flowers of the year, a celebration that lasted 3 days. There was the custom of dancing, singing and tasting a grand feast. With the advent of Christianity these festivities were forbidden, for they were regarded as a diabolical custom.

Either way, these two rites of pagan origin exemplify the importance of nature’s awakening in spring for the success of crops and for families’ health and prosperity.

This is a tradition that, like many others in our country, is disappearing. There are very few villages where you can still see Portuguese Broom hung on doors, where winter dust is shaken, furniture is cleaned and houses are aired, where fantastic tales are still told to children.

There is local tradition in the Algarve on the May 1st - the display of life-size mannequins and models on many roadsides.



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0 #5 Gerry Atkins 2019-05-05 09:17
I am happy to see Elsa has 4 «likes» and Darcy minus 3. So called customs and culture are no excuse to ill treat animals.
-1 #4 Rob 2019-05-04 14:30
Walking the Caminho Portuguese and was curious why this yellow flower was stuffed in every doorway and window along the way. Sure doesn’t seem like a fading tradition going north into Spain.
0 #3 Peter Booker 2019-05-02 11:37
The bonecos de Maia are an intriguing tradition. I have found out very little about them, but they are apparently stuffed with barley straw.

They have been a long-time tradition at Bias near Olhão. This year there were more than twenty in the village of Stª Catarina.
-6 #2 Darcy 2019-05-01 22:37
It's very good of elsa, to not object to EU countries keeping their historic folk customs alive ... it would be great "for her" if she could just lighten up a bit !
+8 #1 Elsa 2019-05-01 07:45
No one objects to EU countries keeping their historic folk customs alive; it is only when these involve mistreating humans or animals that the more modern EU societies object. How on earth dozens of people could congregate by prior arrangement after dark in the Moura area - along with the obligatory GNR who must be warned of any grouping - to watch a cat in a basket be burned alive strung high up a lamp post is beyond me. As they have done for centuries across Portugal but only known widely about because some brave soul videoed it. Then we get the usual Portuguese squirming that this is one of our many historic 'animal suffering' traditions and, if you don't like it - then 'eff orf!

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