Entrudo, Portugal’s Celtic Mardi Gras

Feb 20, 2017 by

Entrudo Portugal, a uniquely Portuguese type of Mardi Gras, marks the last night of feasting before the start of the Lenten season.

In Portugal, Fat Tuesday (the day before Lent begins) is celebrated with an ancient Celtic festival called Entrudo.

Entrudo has its roots in ancient Celtic fertility celebrations, although it is now tied to the Christian customs of Lent.

Similar to Mardi Gras festivities (but much more localized and family friendly), Entrudo  is a colorful celebration involving hand carved wooden masks, parades, music, lots of food and drink, and mischievous behavior.



Masked Entrudo reveller

Masked figure at Entrudo fest in the village of Lazarim, Portugal– Source


The Careto tradition is a pre-historical Celtic religious ritual still practiced in some regions of Portugal, namely in the villages of Podence (Macedo de Cavaleiros, Bragança District) and Lazarim (Lamego, Viseu District).

It currently takes place during Carnival and is one of the oldest traditions being practiced in Portugal today.

The careto is very much evident in Entrudo Portugal celebrations.

Caretos are masked young men dressed in suits made of yellow, red, black, blue and green fringe wool quilts. They wear brass bells, leather or wooden masks, and rattles in their belts. Caretos run about wildly, “stealing” wine, and “frightening” people, especially single women.

Entrudo Portugal, in Podence

Caretos at Entrudo Portugal, in Podence —Source




This short video shows that the Entrudo Portugal definitely has its roots in ancient Celtic fertility rituals:



Even the very young participate in the Entrudo parade, sometimes doing a little clean up along the route.


Entrudo Portugal child in parade

Child in colorful costume, Entrudo Portugal–Source


If you go to Entrudo, be sure to bring a camera, a Portuguese phrasebook, and wear warm clothes. It’s cold in the mountainous villages that host the oldest Entrudos.

Enjoy the local stews and drinks, most made especially for the event.

Mostly, though, just enjoy this ancient revelry from our Celtic past!



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Beltane, Celtic May Day

Apr 30, 2015 by

May 1st is traditionally celebrated in the Celtic countries as Beltane, an ancient feast honoring the beginning of the summer season.

It occurs midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. For the ancient Gaelic speaking peoples, Beltane rituals were performed to protect their cattle, ensure fertility, and to ward off fairies known as the Tuatha Dé Danann.

Beltane welcome

The May Queen welcomes Beltane at Edinburgh’s festival. Original image by chrisdonia on Flickr

The name “Beltane” ( rhymes with airplane) is thought to have come from the ancient Irish: Bel from the ancient Celtic god Bel or Belenus, and the Old Irish word tene, meaning fire. In Irish, it is Bealtaine, in Scottish, Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic, Boaltinn or Boaldyn.

My favorite Beltane song is Jethro Tull’s magical ” Beltane:

Have you ever stood in the April wood
And called the new year in?
And while the phantoms of three thousand years fly
As the dead leaves spin?

There’s a snap in the grass behind your feet
And a tap upon your shoulder
And the thin wind crawls along your neck
It’s just the old God’s getting older

And the kestrel drops like a fall of shot and
The red cloud hanging high a come, a Beltane
A come, a Beltane…

Beltane was celebrated in some form in all of the Celtic countries. Here’s a lovely Beltane song sung in Welsh:

Although not a traditional Beltane song, Wild Mountain Thyme is a wonderful song about the coming of summer. It’s been covered by many artists, including the Chieftains, Rod Stewart, The Corries and more.  Here’s the inimitable Van Morrison doing his stellar version, entitled Purple Heather:

In Scotland, Edinburgh holds a HUGE Beltane festival every year, complete with pagan fertility gods and fire. It is put on by the Beltane Fire Society  and is quite popular with tourists from around the world. The fest combines traditional Gaelic Beltane rituals with neo-paganism to create unique, rolling party/play. This video gives you an idea of how Edinburgh celebrates the arrival of summer–caution, includes pagan nudity:

In Cornwall, Beltane is celebrated with the Obby ‘Oss tradition, in which a dancer dressed as a stylized black horse dances through the streets, trying to “capture” young maidens under his black cape.  “Teasers” chase the horse through the street (albeit slowly, in parade fashion), towards the May pole, whereupon the ‘oss is returned to his stable til next year. The origins of this Cornish fertility fest are ancient, but somewhat obscure; it is definitely pre-Christian and Celtic, possibly connected to the worship of horse deities such as Epona.


 You don’t have to be pagan to enjoy Beltane. Just fire up the BBQ grill, crank up the Celtic music and invite all your rowdy friends over to party like a Celt.

Happy Beltane!

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Burning The Clavie in Scotland

Jan 11, 2014 by

Nobody throws better fire festivals than the Scots–first at Hogmanay on January 1st, then at the numerous Viking fire fests, such as Up Helly Aa, that are held throughout Scotland in January and February.   In Burghead, a small fishing town along the Moray Firth in northeast Scotland, residents hold a second New Year’s fire fest on January 11th: The Burning of the Clavie, a unique and spectacular custom that may have its roots in the ancient traditions of the Picts, Celts and Vikings.



Burning the Clavie in Burghead Photo by: © James Killeen

Burning the Clavie in Burghead
Photo by: © James Killeen

In the 18th century, Scotland adopted the Gregorian calendar, taking away fourteen days from the month of September and making January 1, rather than January 11 (the first day of the year under the old Julian system), the official date for all Scottish New Year celebrations. Most Scots were verra displeased with these new-fangled dates, but the good people of Burghead decided to make the best of it by holding TWO New Year’s fire spectacles, one on January 1 and the second, The Burning of the Clavie, on January 11 (unless the 11th falls on Sunday, then the party is on January 10).



Aye, we all know that they burn a Viking longboat at Up Helly Aa, but wha’ the heck is a CLAVIE and how do ye burn the clatty wee thing?!

The “Clavie” (pronounced CLAY-vee) is a half barrel filled with wood shavings and tar, affixed to a large post with a specially forged nail. In the past, a clavie would have been a herring barrel; today, whisky barrels daubed with creosote are used. A group of local fishermen called the Clavie Crew are led by their Clavie King, taking turns carrying the burning Clavie on a set route clockwise round the streets of the old part of the town.

The Clavie from Recite Films on Vimeo.

The final destination of the clavie and crew is Doorie Hill, atop the remnants of an ancient Pictish hill fort. The clavie is placed on a 19th century altar, and fuel is added until the entire hilltop is a blazing bonfire in the darkness. As the fire burns down, the clavie embers roll down the hill, where the crowd eagerly grab pieces for good luck in the coming year. In earlier times, the embers were also thought to be wards against witches and fairies. Leaders of the Presbyterian church condemned the clavie burning as “superstitious, idolatrous and sinfule, an abominable heathenish practice”.

Is Burning the Clavie  a Celtic, a Pictish or a Viking custom, or maybe a little of all of them? The tradition is so old, no one knows for sure, but it has elements from each culture.  As far as locals are concerned, scholars can research the origins all they want—-Burghead will just keep  building and burning their clavie in a fiery celebration of the New Year.



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It’s NOT Halloween, it’s Hop-tu-Naa on the Isle of Man

Oct 29, 2013 by

On the Isle of Man, October 31st is celebrated as Hop-tu-Naa, an ancient Manx tradition that predates Halloween. As with Samhain, hop-tu-naa marks the end of the harvest season, the onset of the cold, dark days of winter, and the start of a new year.

Manx Hop-tu-Naa Turnip Lanterns http://tinyurl.com/mpg3bnx

Manx Hop-tu-Naa Turnip Lanterns http://tinyurl.com/mpg3bnx

This is old Sauin night; Hop-tu-naa
The moon shines bright; Trol-la-laa…

Shoh shenn oie Houiney
T’an eayst soilshean; Trol-la-laa…

from The Hop-Tu-Naa Song

The name “Hop-tu-Naa” (pronounced hop two nay) is a derivation of the Manx Gaelic phrase  “Shogh ta’n Oie”, meaning “this is the night”.  Like Hogmanay in Scotland, hop-tu-naa is a Celtic festival in honor of the new year,  “Oie Houney”, but the Manx fest has not been moved to January, as has the Scottish fest.  Manx people continue to ring in their Celtic New Year on the eve of October 31st, just before “mee houney”, Manx for November, begins.

Some Manx hop-tu-naa traditions are similar to Halloween customs.  As with American trick or treaters, Manx children today don disguises and happily go door to door in search of sweet treats.  They may also bring along their carved turnip lanterns–pumpkins are a New World luxury that would have been too expensive to purchase, even if available, so turnips(called moots or swedes) became the practical choice for hop-tu-naa revelers about 100 years ago.  I can tell you from personal experience that carving a turnip is MUCH harder than carving a pumpkin, and requires a good deal of commitment to your art.



In the old days, children would sing the Manx Gaelic Hop-tu-Naa Song (see above), as they roamed door to door, seeking apples, salted herring, old coins or other goodies. Sadly, the song is rarely heard sung in Manx these days, but recent efforts to increase Manx Gaelic use throughout the island may give the Hop-tu-Naa Song a rebirth. I searched in vain for a video or sound clip of the song being sung in Manx.

Another musical  hop-tu-naa tradition involves singing a song about a local lady, Jinny the witch, as the children go from house to house. Not to be confused with just any old Halloween witch, this Jinny is unique to the Isle of Man and predates  Halloween by several centuries. She lived  in the town of Braddan and was tried for witchcraft in the early 18th century, for using magic to shut down the local corn mill.  Fortunately for her, local authorities did not have the same zealousness for punishing witches as was seen in 18th century Scotland and America.  Jinny was sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment, fined £3 and made to stand at the four market crosses dressed in sackcloth–not fun, but much better than being burned at the stake.



There are numerous versions of the Jinny the Witch song, but a common one has the following lyrics:

Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
Jinny the Witch flew over the house
To catch a stick to lather the mouse
Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
If you don’t give us something we’ll run away
With the light of the moon.


Here is short video from the Manx Heritage Center in 2011, showing some of the dancing, music and activities traditionally associated with hop-tu-naa–watch for the little guy dancing with a candy cigarette in his mouth:


To learn more about the Isle of Man:

The Isle of Man: Portrait of A Nation, John Grimson, 2010 ISBN-10: 0709081030

Manx Heritage Center http://tinyurl.com/kdx58xm

The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man: Being an Account of its Myths, Legends, Superstitions, Customs & Proverbs(Forgotten Books), A. W. Moore, 1891,
ISBN-10: 1605061832

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