Every year mid-June, the time-honoured Santo António celebrations take over the streets of Lisbon, filling them with grilled-sardine and sangria-selling stalls, cheery bunting, and happy people.
Twenty-three groups representing Lisbon parishes took part in the popular marches this year, their colourful floats and bedecked dancers battling it out for the title of best neighbourhood, the parade itself being one of the high points of the traditional festivities.
The popular parade flowed down the city’s main Avenida da Liberdade on Tuesday night, hours after 16 local couples tied the knot in the customary Santo António mass wedding, another high point of the yearly festivities in honour of Lisbon’s patron saint.
The winning neighbourhood float in this year’s popular marches was again Alfama, for the third consecutive year, followed by Bairro Alto in second place and Madragoa, in third.
Celebrated since before the 25 April Revolution in 1974, the Santo António weddings are held to give cash-strapped local couples the chance to wed in a large joint ceremony.
The civil ceremony takes place in Lisbon Town Hall, while the religious ceremony was this year celebrated for the first time in the Santo António church, as opposed to Lisbon cathedral.
After the wedding breakfast, the happy newlyweds hot-footed across town to join the marchas populares parade.
The Santo António weddings were held this year for the 22nd time since being reintroduced in 1997, following a 23-year hiatus after the 25 Abril Revolution. They were brought back in 1997 during the socialist mandate of then Lisbon MayorJoão Soares.
Since then, 352 couples have wed in the mass ceremony, which is televised to the nation. Another first is that this year the weddings were also broadcast by the British broadcasting corporation BBC.
Each couple is allowed to invite 20 guests to the ceremony and the wedding breakfast, which is held in Lisbon’s Estufa Fria greenhouse, in the Park Eduardo 7th.
Around 1,100 people are enlisted every year to help the event go without a hitch, and lend a hand to the couples on the big day.
Everything from the brides’ and grooms’ outfits to the honeymoons is provided by the local council through partnerships and sponsorships.
Wednesday was a local holiday in Lisbon, to allow the Santo António party-goers time to recover.
Next in line is Porto, which will be throwing the mother of all street parties in northern Portugal to celebrate its patron saint, São João, which is celebrated on the night of 23 June, Saint John’s Eve.