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Pagan Festival: the Festa do Chocalheiro in Trás-os-Montes

Associação de Turismo do Porto CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Trás-os-Montes is a curious region regarding ancestral celebrations and traditions. The Festa do Chocalheiro is one of the best-known festivals in this region, primarily due to the distinctive and original clothing worn by the people parading through the streets.

The "Festa do Chocalheiro" is commemorated every year, on December 26 and January 1 in Trás-os- Montes region. It is considered a pagan festival of ancient heritage. It began as a celebration dedicated to the winter solstice, but today is celebrated in the name of Baby Jesus. It is a curious celebration combining the sacred and the profane in the same ritual. Would you like to see it for yourself?

The Chocalheiro is the main figure, as the name of the ritual indicates. Dressed in rough linen, this person wears a mask with horns and is accompanied by a snake, a pig bladder at the nape of his or her neck and holding blacksmith’s tongs to clear chimney flues. Along the route, the Chocalheiro collects offerings. Everything collected is given to the church, giving this celebration a blend of the profane and the sacred

Who is behind this celebration? On the two days of the Festa do Cocalheiro, unmarried young people rule village life. Originally, the festival celebrated the beginning of a new agricultural cycle, with the days becoming longer, and, for young people, it also means becoming adults.

Get an early start: the celebration of this ritual begins early, with a bag-pipe player passing through the village to remind all its inhabitants. Afterward, the chocalheiros appear, dancing, jumping, whirling and making a racket. There are no limits: hidden behind their masks, they are permitted anything: they invade the houses, grabbing black pudding, blood sausage, smoked meats, dried figs and bread to add to the feast. This “collection” ends with a great banquet in the churchyard.

Profane and religious: the "Chocalheiro" goes throughout town collecting funds for the church, but may only enter the church after removing the costume.

Interesting, isn’t it? The northern region of Portugal is full of traditions and rituals, and it would not be difficult to find various examples of celebrations that mix the sacred and the profane. Would you like to find out about more pagan festivals? We can help you! Plan your trip to Porto and Northern Portugal and be prepared to return with luggage full of genuine traditions.

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