May 1st is an opportunity for workers in Portugal to show their discontent for existing working conditions in parades all over the country but mainly in the capital, where the two main national union federations organise rallies.
May 1st also is a traditional ‘start of spring’ holiday in Portugal and a day for protecting homes from evil for the year ahead by packing sprigs of yellow broom into doors and windows to ward off the devil for the rest of the year.
In northern Portugal, tradition dictates that on the night of April 30th yellow flowers known as “Maias” are placed on the doors, windows and balconies of every house. This is how the month of May is welcomed and how we avoid that the “evil eye” slips through keyholes and crannies.
According to popular belief, the flower ornaments made with “Maias” serve to fight off “Maio”, “Carrapato” or “Burro”, depending on the different regions of the country. What better defense is there to ward off evil spirits than to gather branches of these wild and dense flowers, which put fear in the devil himself?
The abundance of this shrub on the slopes of Portugal’s mountains has many considering it a weed, but ancestors saw in it unique characteristics to make, by hand, strong and resistant brooms. And this is precisely why the “Maias” became known, in English, as Portuguese Broom.
The origin of this spring custom is uncertain. Legend has it that “Maia” was a rye straw doll, around which people danced on the night of April 30th to May 1st. According to others, the name of the month of May is due to Maia, Mother of Mercury, the goddess of fertility and rebirth. Either way, these two rites of pagan origin exemplify the importance of nature’s awakening in spring for the success of crops and for families’ health and prosperity.
This is a tradition that, like many others in our country, is disappearing. There are very few villages where you can still see Portuguese Broom hung on doors, where winter dust is shaken, furniture is cleaned and houses are aired, where fantastic tales are still told to children.
The local tradition in the Algarve on May 1st is the display of life-size mannequins and models on many roadsides and in villages. Notes frequently accompany these mannequins on which the writer has created a type of rhyme voicing discontent with some aspect of government. I have been told, although it has also been disputed, that sometimes the complaints are also aimed directly at neighbours…..how I wish I could read them to appreciate the true gist. In any case, what fun to walk around town and enjoy the many mannequins on display here in Estoi. In any case, this was during my early morning walk……
Of course there were lots of other wonderful things to photograph on my meanderings…
Marc had stayed at home this morning and was busy in the kitchen…..the wonderful scent that greeted me on my return had me salivating. Another fabulous tourtiere for dinner this evening….how spoiled I am!! With tastebuds dancing we headed off to the square to have lunch. I had bumped into people we had met from England, Marion and Dave, and we had arranged to meet for lunch. Lovely visit.
Every year at the beginning of May the people of Estoi celebrate a very special festival, “Festa da Pinha”, meaning festival of the pine cone. Nobody has yet been able to explain the origin of this old tradition. The participants, who traditionally dress in black trousers, white shirts and red neckerchiefs, get together at the racecourse in Estoi – horsemen, horse-drawn carriages, tractors and lorries, all beautifully decorated with flowers. At the end of the day the best decorations in each of these categories will win a prize. We will be in the square tomorrow morning to enjoy this feast for the eyes but we had a tiny sneak peak today when we saw one of the men being interviewed for the local t.v.. Stay tuned!