Pão por Deus or Portuguese-style Halloween?

Halloween is a celebration known throughout the world, originally associated with English-speaking countries but which now has a place in many non English-speaking countries. Portugal is no exception. But did you know that, until very recently, the tradition was to ask for Pão por Deus or “Bread in God’s name”? Discover this Portuguese festivity, which is Christian in origin, and its similarities with Halloween (both take place at the same time of year)!

Whilst Halloween usually involves parties, costumes, the innocent blackmail of trick or treating, decorating your house, making pumpkin lanterns, guessing games or telling scary stories and watching horror films, the approach of Pão por Deus was somewhat more low-key. The principle of going from door to door asking for something is the same, but in the case of Pão por Deus, there are no costumes, no frights and it takes place in the daytime of 1st November. That said, Portuguese children do share the aim of filling their bags with sweets.

Although the custom of Pão por Deus has died out in big cities, you can still find groups of children going from door to door on 1st November in more rural areas. This tradition is thought to have originated from a 15th-century Pagan ritual, which was revived in Portugal a year after the 1755 earthquake. On that 1st November, it seems that Lisbon’s poorest residents took the opportunity to go out and knock on the doors of those who were more fortunate, in an attempt to curb their hunger.

The ritual may have begun in Lisbon, but it eventually spread across the whole country and the tradition was preserved over the years, especially outside of big cities, albeit with some changes. Originally, those “begging” were the poorest in society and bread was mainly given to them, hence the name of Bread in God’s name. However, over time, the practice became exclusive to children who, instead of bread, now receive cakes, dried fruit, sweets or even money.

Who would’ve thought that Portugal had its own version of Halloween? 🙂 Come and discover this and other fascinating facts aboard one of our tuk-tuks. Our drivers have no end of stories about Portuguese culture to share with you. Click here to find out about our tours around Lisbon and embark on a unique adventure!