Santo António is a popular saint in Lisbon. A lot of people think that it’s Santo Padroeiro, but São Vicente is the one who won the popularity title. Nonetheless, Santo António is the one who wins most points in fame, especially when June comes, bringing entertainment and fun along. It is the period of sardines, of campsites, of weddings and of basil plants. The 13th of June is declared the municipal holiday of Lisbon, but the most intense night is the 12th of June. Here are some tips for you to make the best of the party during that night. Remember: be aware of fishbones and being trampled!
Who is Santo António?
Before he was a saint, Santo António was called Fernando de Bulhões, and he was born in Lisbon at the end of the XIIth century. He was accepted in the Saint Agostinho order, but after having studied in Coimbra he changed his way of thinking. The body of the Franciscan friars who died in Morocco impressed him in such a way that he decided to change order, and become a missionary. He travelled to Morocco and after that to Italy, where he died, in the city of Pádua. He became such a popular figure that, one year after his death, in the year 1231, he was declared a saint. In Portugal, he is the saint who helps married couples and helps find lost objects. Some time ago, if they had trouble in getting married, the young women would punish the saint: they would steal the statue of the baby Jesus until they found a husband, or they would put him upside down for a suitable fiancee to come along. Lack of imagination was not an issue when it came to punishing the saint in terrible ways.
Try to go early to the party…
Moving on from the story of the saint, we dive into the details of the party! When we suggest going early, we don’t actually mean waking up at the crack of dawn. We suggest you go there at around 18h30 to avoid wandering around for a good place to have dinner. The queues for the impromptu terraces or local restaurants are always filled with people. If you find restaurants which accept reservations is a plus, but it’s advisable to make the reservations some time in advance.
It’s best to wear comfortable shoes…
If you want to take advantage to the fullest of the campsites throughout the city, the best is to wear comfortable shoes. Preferably resistant to being stepped on, being run-over and for long walks and dancing.
Eat a sardine in bread? How?
It’s quite a struggle, especially for a foreigner who has never seen sardines only in a can. They taste so good. But to be able to savour this delicacy in bread, there are various obstacles to overcome: the fishbones, the fish skin, and eat using your hand, which leaves a rather bad smell. But no matter the situation, this is a true experience not to be missed. Tear down the skin, eat the top of the spine, take out the fishbone entirely, flip the fish and eat it with bread. It’s pretty simple, right? In case of frustration, just carefully observe a skilled master of eating sardines in bread. Pay attention not to eat the fishbones!
A basil plant in the window…
It’s the ideal decoration to celebrate this festive period. The basil is the ‘lovers’ plant’ and it’s offered always with a small written block, a small flag and a colourful paper flower. The lovers take advantage of the festive night to declare their love for one another, one of them offering the basil plant. We can give it to our loved ones, too, may they be our boyfriends, mothers, aunts or friends. Remember, ‘smelling’ the basil is not with your nose, but with your hands.
Throw the coin!
Before you go in Aflama, during the night of the 12th of June, it is customary take a de-tour to the square of Largo de Santo António da Sé where the statue of Santo António can be found. Single girls and boys who wish to master the trick, try to throw a coin over the book the saint is holding. A pretty difficult stunt giving the height of the target. And there are the ones that cheat, grabbing the coins to fill their pockets by climbing the statue or picking them up from the floor. Everyone has a blast during this festive day!
Dance and Sing out loud!
We can pretend and deny the entire year that we do not listen to Pimba music, or dance on its rhythms. We keep denying everything related to this. We do not know the lyrics to the songs and we refuse to dance. Not knowing why, during the month of June and on the campsites, that have this strange effect on us, when we hear it, we dance like crazy to the sound of Quim Barreiros. And get in a train formation as soon as ‘Apita ao Comboio’ starts. All year long we ignore it, but this particular night we cannot resist it…and we do not know why…
Translation by Ioana Bota