Ascension Day celebration in Portugal: “Espiga Day” traditions

“Espiga Thursday”, “Espiga Day” (“Espiga” in Portuguese is the word for ear of grain) or Ascension Thursday (Feast of the Ascension) is celebrated today in Portugal.

The celebration has Christian origins and marks the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven 40 days after the resurrection (40 days after Easter).

In Portugal, a country with a strong Catholic tradition, “Espiga” Day used to be a national holiday until 1952. Later, the Catholic Church started to celebrate it on the 7th Sunday of Easter.

Nowadays, there are still some rural Portuguese municipalities which celebrate “Espiga Day” with a local holiday. Many people keep the tradition of going to the fields to pick ears of grain and flowers to make their bouquets, keeping them behind their front door. A traditional “ear of grain” must contain ears of wheat (always in odd numbers), a small branch of olive, poppies, daisies and vine sticks.

The bouquet is called “Ramo de Espigas” is a symbol of prosperity and good luck! Each flower in the “ramo de Espigas” has a special meaning:

Each flower in the bouquet (called “Ramo de Espigas”) has a special meaning:

  • ear of grain (“espiga”): the most important part of the bouquet. They stands for bread and prosperity
  • daisy (“malmequer”): stands for fortune
  • poppy (“papoila”): stands for love
  • olive branch (“ramo de oliveira”): stands for peace
  • rosemary (“alecrim”): stands for health
  • vine leaves (“videira”): stands for joy

In Arruda dos Vinhos, a small town in Lisbon District, “Espiga Day” is a city holiday! Last year we had the chance of joining the local “Espiga Day” celebration.

We attended the Mass of Ascension in the Church of N. Sra. Da Salvação, joined the pilgrimage to Senhora do Monte, witnessed the Blessing of the Fields in the Chapel of N. Sra. Do Monte and watched the performance of the folk dance group “Rancho Folclórico Podas e Vindimas de Arruda dos Vinhos”.

Rancho Folclórico Podas e Vindimas de Arruda dos Vinhos-Folk Dance Group

For us, Brazilians from Rio de Janeiro, it was a great opportunity to see how regional traditions resist in this countryside town, located just 30 minutes away from the centre of Lisbon.

This year there won’t be any celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that in the next year we can celebrate “Espiga Day” as it should be.

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