In Portugal, All Saints Day (November 1st), used to be celebrated with the “Bread for God” tradition — one that dates back to the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. Nowadays, Halloween is mixed with this tradition, with its colourful pumpkins, scary costumes and English expressions. Despite being completely different traditions, both commemorate the departed.
On November 1st, 1755, around 9:00 a.m., the city of Lisbon was hit by an earthquake, followed by a huge tsunami, wildfires and looting, that completely destroyed the city and killed more than 10,000 people. Those who survived had no other choice than to go around the neighbouring towns asking for food and bread as there was nothing to eat in Lisbon.
With time, this tradition came to replace the commemorations of the Day of the Dead (November 2nd), making the 1st of November the perfect day for remembering those loved ones that are no longer with us. All Saints Day gradually became the Portuguese Day of the Dead holiday, where the Bread for God (in Portuguese, “Pão-por-Deus”) became the preferred tradition to observe.
In “Bread for God”, children up to around 12 years old would go around knocking on their neighbours’ doors, holding home-made satchels and asking “bread for God’s sake” in loving memory of the departed. Instead of saying “Trick or Treat”, whenever someone opened the door, the kids would shout: “Pão-por-Deus!” (Bread, for God’s Sake). The owner of the house would hand out small coins or other treats. The children had until midday to go around and collect as many coins and sweets as possible.
While Halloween is usually at night, “Bread for God” goes from sunrise until noon; in Halloween, kids dress up in scary costumes, in “Bread for God” they make their own satchels, sowing different patches of fabric into one handmade bag. There are no costumes in “Bread for God”. Halloween and “Bread for God” are two traditions that, despite their differences, seek to celebrate and remember our departed ones.
Nowadays, this Portuguese tradition is slowly being mixed with, and sometimes replaced by, Halloween — a much more festive and “global” tradition. The door to door knocking, the tricks or treats and bags of sweets are all imported elements that combine these two completely different celebrations in a contemporary mix of traditions.
All Saints Day is followed by All Souls Days, on 2 November, a day to pay respects to the departed and more commonly called the Day of the Dead, but not a bank holiday.