Have I said I love June? Yes, this is my favorite month in the year, at least when I still lived in Lisbon. The weather gets warmer, the city dresses itself in colorful tones and there’s joy and happiness in every corner. Part of June’s charm has to do with the celebration of Saint Anthony. Throughout the month, street parties, music, food and other traditions take place, filling the air with its smells and warming up alfacinhas’ hearts (a nickname designating the Lisboners).
On the 13th of June, St. Anthony’s day is celebrated. Born as Fernando de Bulhões, in Lisbon around 1191, died in Padua (Italy) on the 13th June 1231, the reason why he is also known as Anthony of Padua. Having been a friar of the Franciscan Order, today he is known and prayed for, for several reasons: to find lost things, for helping and supporting the poor and also for blessing couples and weddings (some also argue that he can help finding a husband).
Despite not being the official patron of the city (Saint Vincent is), Anthony is is considered Lisbon’s unofficial representative saint: today and throughout June, celebrations take place all over the city, mainly in the old historic neighborhoods.
Street parties, known as festas dos santos populares (popular saints parties), are the highlight of the festivities, filled with music, beer and sangria, grilled sardines and the smelly manjericos (a type of basil). On the night of the 12th of June, people from all over the place head to Alfama, Castelo, Bica, Graca and all the surrounding areas for the greatest street party of the year.
Also on the 12th, Marchas populares (strangely translated into popular marches) take place in Avenida da Liberdade. Marchas are a parade where all traditional neighborhoods go down the largest avenue in Lisbon, showing their costumes, singing and dancing to the marching songs.
On the same day and earlier in the afternoon, the Saint Anthony Weddings take place. Every year, 16 Lisbon couples that cannot afford to pay for a wedding celebrate their love by getting married in a group ceremony. This event is sponsored by the Mayor of Lisbon and is celebrated in Se Catedral, the main cathedral in the city.
I have never attended Marchas Populares or St Anthony’s weddings but I became a regular visitor at the street parties ever since my parents allowed me to get out at night – and that was a long time ago! I hold the most wonderful memories of these parties although I also have strange and awkward memories of it. Nevertheless, each year that I’m not at home on this day, I can’t help but feeling a bit sad, wondering why I gave up on a city that I have always loved deeply. But June is all about joy, happiness and delightful moments and the best way to honor it is to smile and hope – and also pray to Saint Anthony – that next year I will be celebrating it in the place in the world I love the most, Lisboa.