The Portuguese are said to be quite a superstitious folk, but in my time here, I hadn't found myself in a situation in which I had to perform a particular act regarding any supernatural influences until recently.
The other night I went out with my family to celebrate the birthday of my host mother's niece. She was turning 6 years old.
Because I already have 2 other birthday parties under my belt, I felt quite experienced going into this one. I knew exactly what to expect from the night's events. We would meet the rest of the family out at a restaurant of their choice for dinner. There we would chat over pitchers of wine and enjoy our family-style Portuguese dishes. Once the meal was finished, only after our espresso, of course, we would all wander over to the house of a close-by relative. There we would continue to enjoy some digestivos along with a homemade cake.
What made this time different from the others, however, was what took place after singing happy birthday (the Portuguese version, of course), and before the cutting of the cake. Similar to the American tradition I'm so familiar with, the birthday cake was filled with a certain amount of lit candles awaiting to be extinguished by a small puff of air full of desire.
After the birthday girl managed to extinguish the very last flame, she was quickly given instructions to go underneath the table that the cake was sitting on. So, as instructed she grabbed one of the candles and scurried under the table, crouching over the kitchen floor.
"What is she doing?" - I had to ask.
Before I could receive an answer, the birthday girl popped back out from under the table and handed me her candle.
At the very bottom of the candle, she took a small bite.
"After taking a bite, she must give it to a guest so that her wishes will come true."
This made me curious. What other superstitions exist in Portugal? After asking various locals, this is what I learned. While there are actually many that we share in common (such as bad luck seeing a black cat, walking under ladders, opening an umbrella indoors, Friday the 13th, broken mirrors...), there are some that I haven't ever heard before. For example:
-if there are 13 people to a table, the oldest/youngest will die within the next year
-putting a broom upside down behind a door makes a boring visitor go away
-if you hold a needle by the thread and hover it over your palm (only after tapping it on your skin), it will tell you the sex, the order and the amount of children you will have in the future. It will even tell you how long it will be before you have your first - if any! (This only works if you are single, if you are married, you must use your wedding ring.)
According to my Portuguese profe, the last superstition has yet to fail. Apparently, when she was younger she had a professor that performed this trick for all the students in her class. Now, she says, every single person that was in that class, including her, has the exact number of children the needle predicted.
Definitely trying this out next chance I find a needle and thread.