The celebration of Easter on the Azores islands is filled with an array of religious celebrations and unique gastronomic traditions that make this one of the brightest times of the Azorean calendar, and one of the funniest too. It is after the rainy season that blankets the winter months here in the Azores that the anticipation for spring becomes evident in the marking of this colorful, religious holiday. The last supper which takes place on Holy Thursday is the beginning of the Easter celebration with many households still having a traditional family meal together in honor of the last supper of Jesus.
This is a happy time and the beginning of a lot of baking, curing, and boiling as traditional Azorean meals are prepared for the upcoming weekend. This is predominantly a weekend filled with seafood, as catholic traditions dictate that no meat should be eaten on Good Friday. This is not a problem for the Portuguese diet as Cod is extremely popular in Portugal; with over 1000 recipes for the famous fish to be prepared.
The Portuguese culture has always been associated very closely with Catholicism; with over 95% of the country identifying as Catholics. This is the same in the Azores where every town, village, and city has at least 1 parish; all devoted to a different patron saint. The celebration of mass in the Azores is extremely important and all the local parishes have multiple masses each day for the devoted and are always filled. This is also the beginning of many religious festivals that take place throughout the archipelago and it is when the magic of the Azores and all its glory begin to bloom, adding with it the sweet, floral scent of spring to the Atlantic breeze. Here you begin to see countless varieties of endemic and native flowers bloom, with many households making beautiful floral arrangements for table centerpieces and to adorn religious artifacts they may have during this holiday period.
Easter Sunday begins with either mass or an Easter egg hunt followed by a lunch that lasts well into dinner in many cases and is the main day for all families to gather and celebrate. On Easter Sunday it is customary to have either Goat, Lamb, Ham, or Cod as entrees with a wide variety of fresh vegetables as well. The westernization of Easter with the bunny rabbits, chocolate eggs, and colorful baskets have also influenced the local culture with many children following the same Easter traditions that take place throughout North America and Western Europe.
The difference is largely the food. Here traditional, family recipes that have been passed down for generations get dusted off the bookshelf as they are replicated the same way as their parents and grandparents taught them as children. Some traditional dishes prepared during the Easter week in both the Azores and Portugal are of course the Portuguese Easter Sweet Bread known as “Folar da Pascoa.” The Folar da Pascoa is a sweet bread that can be replicated in many ways to either be salty or sweet and usually consists of at least 2 eggs. There is a legend that involves Saint Catarina and this Portuguese sweet bread however I find it to be so outdated and unrealistic that I chose not to perpetuate such fodder. Regardless, this is a must if you want to celebrate Easter in a Portuguese traditional way and it will surely impress your friends or family with this pleasant, delightful Portuguese Easter bread.
An Azorean tradition that also takes place in Portugal as well, is the service known as “Compasso.” Prior to Easter Sunday, it is tradition to have the local priest perform the service called Compasso. During Compasso, the priest travels from house to house with the cross and a small procession, blessing the homes in God’s name. This is not only a popular tradition with the older Azorean generation households but also has become a custom that even the current generation enjoys, as it said to bring luck, blessings, and joy to your household.
Celebrating Easter on the Azores islands whichever of the 9 beautiful islands you choose to celebrate this special holiday on, are bound to be a memorable, unforgettable experience culturally, religiously and of course gastronomically.