The Portuguese, and the Spanish for that matter, have found a key to relieving stress, building solid family ties, and ensuring that they get enough sleep. This key is the siesta. That is right, everything in Portugal shuts down between the hours of noon and three, as everybody returns home to eat, sleep, and spend time with their families. Entire cities are rendered ghost towns during these hours and the streets are completely empty and every shop has its doors closed and lights off.
“The siesta is the traditional daily sleep of the Iberia peninsula and through Spanish influence, of Latin American countries. Afternoon sleep is also a common habit in China, India, Italy ( riposo in Italian), Greece, Croatia, Malta, The Middle East and North Africa. In these countries, the heat can be unbearable in the early afternoon, making a midday break in the comfort of one’s home ideal. However, in some countries where naps are taken, such as Northern Spain, Southern Argentina, and Chile, the climate is similar to that of Canada and Northern Europe. Besides the climate, in many countries with this habit it is common to have the largest meal of the day in the afternoon, in contrast with other countries where only a lighter lunch is taken.”
This explanation sounds good to me, and I think that the siesta is a great custom. In fact, cultures that practice the siesta also tend to be far more community centric and family oriented than ones that do not. I remember being awed in Latin America by just how solid family structures are, and I am quickly getting a similar impression of Portugal and Spain. Families eat together here, they talk to each other, they really communicate. I feel a little lost here without a family of my own. When I watch the owner of the guesthouse that I am staying at walk across the street to eat at his mother’s house three times a day, I could not feel more like an outsider. Portuguese families and communities are tight, perhaps the siesta has something to do with this.
More from Wikipedia:
“The original concept of a siesta was not merely that of a midday break. This break was intended to allow people time to be spent with their friends and family.”
But I am told that the custom is beginning to fade out away. Apart from the small villages on the coast and in the countryside, the siesta is quickly becoming a habit for those who are privileged enough to live a life that is compatible with it. Now many people in Portugal are far too busy to take this rash break in the middle of the day. I am told that people are now have work, business, school, and personal obligations to adhere to this ages old custom. Like so many other traditions, the siesta is going the way of the wind.
Dreams of the old world.
Where people once knew their bodies, knew their families, nature, and the tidings of the world they lived in.
Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal
November 23, 2007