Winter masquerade of St Stephen in Ousilhão, north-east Portugal, 26 December 2008.
In Portugal it is believed that Saint Stephen's Day, 26th December, was added to the liturgic calendar to incorporate pre-Christian festivals for the Winter Solstice. In the village of Ousilhão (in the district of Bragança) Celtic celebrations of fertility and the cult of the sun together with the Roman Feast of Saturnalia, were incorporated by the Catholic church into the saint's day of the young Christian martyr St Stephen to create an annual winter masquerade.
Representing the profane, diabolic side of festivities villagers called Máscaros wearing wooden masks carved in the village, process through the streets to the noise of pipes, drums and bells. This is to purify the community at the end of the year. Disrupting village life the Máscaros enter houses where they are greeted with bread, cake and port. The Máscaros then take a man representing the old king Mordomo through the village in a cart to a mass dedicated to St Stephen.
After the service - in a ceremony representing the transmission of power - Mordomo sits down to a meal of bread and wine with his successor called Rei. The simple meal is hosted outdoors in the centre of the village by the village priest.
After the meal Mordomo's crown is placed on the head of the new, young king who is then taken off in a cart by the Máscaros.
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