27 October, 2021       LISBON - MAX. Pleasant with plenty of sunshineº, MIN. 01º

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Folders  |  Popular Marches
Popular Marches
Juliette Dejardin
Popular Marches

In the night from 12 to 13 June, the different Lisbon neighbourhoods are going to try to outshine each other.
An audience of 3500 is expected on Avenida da Liberdade and the show will be shown live on TV.
But where does this tradition of street processions in such attire come from ?

The aim is to give thanks to St Anthony, of course, but if you dig deeper into the origins of this tradition, the whole Saint’s day is really just an excuse for having a jolly good party!

In fact, the May festivals called “as Maias” that take place during the night between 30 April and 1 May and that have many rumoured origins (Corpus Christi celebrations, Homage to the Virgin Mary) lie behind the festivities in honour of the three popular Saints: Antonio, Pedro and Joao (or saints Anthony, Peter and John).

In the past, the religious nature of the "Maias" gradually weakened, street parties increased and King Don João I finally banned such events, feeling they were too pagan.
The Portuguese people love to party, so they decided to celebrate another date instead and chose Ascension Thursday (Dia da Espiga), a time to also celebrate the arrival of the first fruit. In the 18th century during Napoleonic times,  the French launched the tradition of military marches each month of June, in memory of the taking of the Bastille in France. The Portuguese copied the idea, replacing the French soldiers’ torches with paper balloons and fireworks.

This is how the tradition of dances and songs linked to the "Maias" transferred to the month of June in order to celebrate the popular saints instead.

The streets of Lisbon are decked with garlands of carnations, which are a June flower, and balconies and windows are filled with Manjericos (basil plants). For sale on every street corner, the plants come with a carnation, and on it is a label containing a familiar saying (it’s a good luck charm if you keep it for a whole year...).

The evening of 12 June, barbecues are lit and sardines put to grill and young people dance until daybreak.
The wild artichoke is another important symbol linked with the marches and festivities. In the past, a person who wanted to make sure their loved one would be faithful would lightly grill a flowering artichoke. If the flower bloomed again a few days later, this meant the love was true and that a wedding could be envisaged.

Arches, balloons, carnations, basil, artichokes and blazing infernos are all sources of inspiration for those writing songs for the marches. The music is more upbeat and happy than Fado, the choruses of the songs are great for a sing-a-long.

We must thank Leitão de Barros assisted by Norberto de Araújo (authors, songwriters and journalists) for the popular marching songs that we know today. In fact, this duo were involved in promoting the marches in 1932. The first neighbourhoods to take part were Alto Pina, Bairro Alto and Campo de Ourique.

In 2008, a total of 20 neighbourhoods took part in the event and this year the Belem clube will also join.
The EGEAC (Empresa de Gestão de equipamentos e animação cultural da Camara Municipal) organises the marches and the competition has two parts:
A show at the Pavilhão Atlantico and a procession along Avenida da Liberdade on 12 June. The rules are very strict.

Those taking part in the marches are:

Young newlyweds chosen by the town at the time of the festival of Saint Anthony – they traditionally head the procession. Then follow two groups (not competing): "A marcha Infantil da Voz do Operario" and the marching band of the "Mercados". Then follow the representatives of the twenty neighbourhoods including: a couple of children aged under ten years, the mascots, a standard or flag-bearer, the couple of patrons (famous people, usually singers, actors, comedians, TV presenters and other celebrities), 24 pairs of dancers, 4 "aguadeiros" (water-carriers) who help set-up the accessories and distribute water along the 1 km procession, and two “trainers”.


The "cavalinho" is a group of musicians that must contain 12 instruments: a flute, a clarinet, 2 saxophones, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, a tuba, a base drum, a base and a smaller drum.


Each March executes four moves and one must represent the neighbourhood they come from. The moves cannot last less than 15 minutes nor more than 20. (5 point penalty for not respecting this criterion). At least two moves must be set to original music and lyrics.


12 arcades must be shown. One must represent something that is typical of Lisbon, another the neighbourhood, and a third must in some way refer to Saint Anthony.
The decoration of the arcades and backdrops must include the three traditional elements of a garland, a balloon and basil (manjerico).

The jury is made up of nine people:

the president who cannot allocate points is a representative from EGEAC, a choreographer, a director, a fashion designer, an author, a musician and two other celebrities: they award an overall mark.

The show at the Pavilhão Atlantico is as important as the procession on the 12 June because the marks awarded there count for half the total.

If you have neighbours or friends who take part in the marches, it’s fun to join their group. This gives you free access to the Pavilhão when your neighbourhood will take part in the show, you get a shirt in the colours of the group but, above all, you will be invited to attend rehearsals in order to motivate the band. Hence, the popular marches event on the night of 12 June – a real physical feat – will take on a whole new dimension for you and your family, both young and old,  as you’ll definitely end up sharing in the group’s frenzy and excitement!

Program Festas 2010: http://www.festasdelisboa.com/

See Parties, Barbecues, Dancing…in Lisbon for Saint Anthony Day...

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