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.



Pin It