Public Holidays in Portugal

by Peter Booker


The 1st of December is the oldest civil holiday in Portugal.  It survived the austere 1st Republic, the Estado Novo which considered only religious holidays, and the advent of the democratic 3rd Republic. At the birth of the 1st Republic, fourteen religious holidays were suppressed and national holidays were reduced to five in number.  Slowly over time they have been increased and now we have 13 (six civil and seven religious).




Five National Public Holidays (Five civic: Zero religious)


In  October 1910, less than a week after the proclamation of the Republic, the new administration finished with fourteen religious holidays and instituted only 5 national and civil restdays:


1st January Day of Universal Brotherhood (formerly Circumcision)


31st  January Day of the Republican Revolt in Porto 1891


5th  October Day of the Republic


1st  December Autonomia da Pátria Portuguesa and Day of the Flag


25th December Day of the Family (formerly Christmas)


Of these five days, only 1st December was carried over from the holidays enjoyed in the days of the monarchy.  This holiday was advocated by the National Commission of the 1st of December de 1640, later the Historical Society for National Independence, founded in 1861 to oppose the Iberian Movement.  Municipalities were allowed to choose one further day as a municipal holiday and the current municipal holiday dates from this time.




Six National Public Holidays (Six civic: Zero religious)


In 1912 the Republic created 3rd May to celebrate the discovery of Brazil. 




Seven National Public Holidays (Seven civic: Zero religious)


In 1929, the Dictatorship made national the Lisbon municipal holiday of 10th June, inaugurated in Lisbon in 1911 as a municipal holiday: it became Camões Day and Portugal Day and in 1944 Race Day. From 1978 it became Portugal Day,  Camões Day and Communities Day all rolled into one. In 1929, 1st December changed its name to become Restoration Day.




Eight National Public Holidays (Eight civic: Zero religious)


Salazar always kept separate Church and State, in spite of the strong influence of the Church.  Holidays were always civic celebrations.  The Estado Novo was not prepared to allow the introduction of religious holidays.  When the Pope introduced the Day of Immaculate Conception in 1948, Portugal chose to celebrate the day as Day of the Consecration of Portugal to Our Lady.


By law in 1948, Sunday became an obligatory rest day.




Seven National Public Holidays (One civic: Six religious)


In 1952, however, Salazar cut out 31st January and 3rd May and added on three Catholic holidays: Corpus Christi (moveable) Assumption (15th August) and All Saints (1st November).  Portugal already celebrated 8th December, The Immaculate Conception (as Day of the Consecration of Portugal to Our Lady); 25th December, Christmas (as Family Day); and 1st January New Year (as Day of Universal Brotherhood).  Because it cost Salazar nothing, he changed the denomination of New Year´s Day and 1st January became a religious holiday as the Festival of Circumcision; equally 8th December stopped being the Consecration of Portugal to Our Lady, and became the religious holiday of the Immaculate Conception; and 25th December stopped being the Day of the Family and reverted to Christmas Day.  At the same time, the status of 5th October and 1st December was changed and they became days when cessation of work was voluntary.




Eight National Public Holidays (Two civic: Six religious)


Those responsible for 25 April 1974 were even quicker off the mark than the first republicans, and two days after the military coup, 1st May was declared a national holiday.  1st May was the occasion of a massive popular demonstration in support of the Revolution, and to change its status to a public holiday was a shrewd blow by the revolutionaries. 




Nine National Public Holidays (Three civic: Six religious)


The communist government of Vasco Gonçalves on 18 April 1975 declared 25th April a public holiday, and changed the name of 10th June Dia da Raça to Dia de Portugal. This government inaugurated the tolerância de ponto on Good Friday, which was half way to becoming a public holiday.




Eleven National Public Holidays (Five civic: Six religious)


The government of Pinheiro de Azevedo made obligatory the holidays of 5th October and 1st December. 




Twelve National Public Holidays (Five civic: Seven religious)


Mário Soares in 1976 made Good Friday an obligatory public holiday, and Mardi Gras became a voluntary holiday (feriado facultativo) and 25th April became in 1978 Dia da Liberdade. 




Thirteen National Public Holidays (Five civic:Eight religious)


It cost the Durão Barroso government nothing in 2003 to change the status of Easter Sunday to that of a national public holiday.


During this time there grew the habit of the ponte, the ability of workers to bridge certain days to make a longer holiday.  It is an appropriate word but derives from the tolerância de ponto which was a Salazarist invention, originally applied to 24th December (Christmas Eve) and the afternoon of Holy Thursday (which we call Maundy Thursday).




Nine National Public Holdays (Three civic: Six religious)


The government of Passos Coelho intends to revoke the national civic holidays of 5th October and 1st December, hoping that the Church will cooperate and revoke the two religious holidays of Corpus Christi and All Saints. It remains to be seen whether the Church will readily agree to suppress these two holidays gained with so much difficulty in 1948 and 1952; it may certainly count on the support tacit or otherwise of believers and non-believers alike.  On the other hand, bishops do not want to lay claim to a privileged position in a time of crisis and seem willing to see an equal reduction of civil and religious holidays.  It seems likely that the Church will agree, as it has done in many countries, to relocate the festival of Corpus Christi to a Sunday.  And it may do something similar for All Saints Day which attracts more people to the cemeteries than to the churches.


And so, if we do not count Easter Sunday in the mix as a public holiday since it always falls on a Sunday, and because Sunday has been a rest day since 1948, we return to Salazar´s eight holidays of 1948.  Salazarism rules OK?