Between tradition and modernity

Ousilhão, Vinhais, Portugal, December 2019. A “máscaro” wearing an umbrella.

As a consequence of centuries of history, during which multiple contacts were made with different realities, Portugal is a country very rich in cultural events.

This portfolio documents rituals with masks that take place in the Trás-os-Montes region.

These pagan feasts have long been practiced in agrarian societies on the winter solstice, dating back to Celtic and Roman culture. Subsequently, with the advent of Christianity, the Catholic Church incorporated the festivities into the Christmas cycle, which were renamed Festivities of the Singles or Saint Stephen Festivities. Saint Stephen was a young martyr of Christianity.

The masks

The masks are built by local artisans, who use the most diverse materials such as wood, cork or brass in their manufacture. They represent animals of the local fauna, diabolical figures or human figures.

Ousilhão, Vinhais, Portugal, December 2019. A “máscaro” wearing a mask with long horns.

Participants in the rituals are called “máscaros” or “caretos”, depending on the village where the ritual takes place. They are accompanied by other participants such as pipers and drummers, as well as others who assume the role of kings or bishops.

On December 25 and 26 of each year, “máscaros” and “caretos”, run through the villages, enlivening the party with tricks and mischief, spreading chaos between the population and the visitors. The inhabitants of the villages receive them in their houses, with a table well stuffed with food and drink.

In the past, only single boys could participate in the ritual, but nowadays participation has been extended, in some villages, to women and men, married or single, and also to children. This is an evolution that guarantees the continuity of the parties, in addition to promoting equal opportunities.

Ousilhão, Vinhais, Portugal, December 2019. A “máscaro” wearing a cork mask.
Ousilhão, Vinhais, Portugal, December 2019. A “máscaro” walks on the fire. This ritual symbolizes the purification of the community by fire.
Varge, Bragança, Portugal, December 2019. Recitation of “loas”, popular poems that focus on social criticism.
Varge, Bragança, Portugal, December 2019. The “caretos” spread chaos in front of spectators.
Varge, Bragança, Portugal, December 2019. The “caretos” stir water from a village tank. This is a non-Christian rite using water for ritual purification.
Varge, Bragança, Portugal, December 2019. The “mordomos”, people who organizes the party, accompanied by a piper, a drummer and the “caretos”, pay visit to the inhabitants of the village, who receive them in their houses.
Grijó de Parada, Portugal, Bragança, December 2019. A “careto” in the fog.
Grijó de Parada, Bragança, Portugal, December 2019. A group of “caretos” dancing on the street.
Grijó de Parada, Bragança, Portugal, December 2019. The “bishop”.
Grijó de Parada, Bragança, Portugal, December 2019. A “careto” seated on an olive tree.