A Portuguese Lovers’ Tradition

February 11, 2011 9 comments , ,

Lenços dos Namorados” (Sweetheart Handkerchiefs or Fiancée Handkerchiefs) are handkerchiefs made of linen or cotton and embroidered with several related love patterns. This piece of handcraft is part of the typical clothing from Minho province (in Northern Portugal) and used by women of marrying age.

February: Love month

Lenços dos Namorados” were used as a ritual of romantic conquest. The girl’s sweetheart should use the handkerchief in public so that everyone would know he had started a love relationship with her.

Poetry and codes

The girl in love embroided her handkerchief with poems, like this one…

Escreve-me amor, escreve.
Lá no meio do caminho;
Se não achares papel,
Nas asas de um passarinho

Write to me, my love, write.
At the middle of your journey;
If you can´t find paper,
in the wings of a little bird

…and drawings with specific meanings…

a rose — woman;
a heart — love;
a lily — virginity;
a red carnation — some provocation;
and finally, the doves were the symbol of the in-love couple

…and gave it to her sweetheart when he left on a sea journey to the former colonial provinces.

A small Portuguese lesson

Also known as “Lenços de Pedidos” (Request Handkerchiefs), “Lenços dos Namorados” are closely related with the 17th and 18th centuries Nobility handkerchiefs. Later, they were adapted by the general female population, becoming more widely used, sometimes with spelling mistakes, like this one:

Lenco dos Namorados

antes murrer qe o teu amor perder” (“rather shall I dye than lose your love”)

(here “murrer qe” should be written “morrer que”.)

E tão serto eu ti amár [It is so true I love you]
cumó o lenso branco ser [white as the handkerchief is]
i só déixarei de ti amár [I only will stop loving you]
cuando o lenso a côr perder” [when its colour fades away].

The same poem without mistakes:

E tão certo eu te amar,
como o lenço branco ser,
e só deixarei de te amar,
quando o lenço a cor perder

Times are changing

Nowadays, it’s totally different. We send love messages by email or cell phone. We use Skype easily. We travel mostly for pleasure and for business, not to distant colonial provinces or to discover unknown lands. And mostly, we travel by plane. Even when we travel by boat, it’s safer.

But once upon a time, not so long ago, even during the sixties in the last century, a young man went on a sea journey to the Colonial War in Angola or Mozambique and said farewell to the girl he loved with the “Lenço dos Namorados” she had given him minutes before…

“Lenços dos Namorados” is nowadays a certified regional handwork. If you go to Minho, perhaps you would like to buy one and declare your love in a very Portuguese traditional way…?

Have a lovely February!

Lenco dos Namorados

Read more:
How we celebrate New Year in Portugal
Australian wedding cake (Picture Postcards)
Blogs from Portugal on Blogs of the World

About the author

Sandra Silva
Sandra Silva has been living in the Netherlands since December 2007. Photography and travel writing are Sandra’s main activities, alongside learning Dutch and organizing a life abroad. She is a passionate lover of her country, history, photography, poetry, her cat and old photos. Main hobbies are reading and travelling.
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  • anita rivera

    Precious, this is absolutely lovely. My goodness, your culture has a rich array of art and music and what a celebration of color!!! THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW ABOUT THIS ARTICLE! Have a lovely day, Anita

  • Jacoba

    Hi Sandra,
    truely beautiful! Hand embroidery is so precious, but with your story about the meanings it is even more beautiful.
    Thank you for showing us!
    Happy weekend!

  • Margarida

    Sandra: Gostei imenso. Sou uma apreciadora de lenços de namorados e até gosto dos poemas com erros de gramática. Bj!

  • Adorei! :D I love this tradition! Is it still done today? I don’t think that there is any kind of technology that could possible replace this kind of expression. Truly enchanting, Sandra!

  • Anita, Jacoba, Margarida and Aledys:

    Thank you! :-) It’s a beautiful tradition, indeed. :-)


    I agree with you, but, nowadays, it is not usual to declare ourselves with the handkerchief.
    However, we can buy one to use it in our wedding or just to keep it. Or do some applications in our wedding dress, as we see in the photo. :-)
    it is easier to find these handkerchiefs in Minho province.

    Tableware with these patherns is available too. Vista Alegre, our most known china brand, has one set very, very beautiful. ;-)


  • It’s beautiful. Must take a long time to make the embroidery.

  • Sandra,
    Gostei muito e fiquei surpreendida com o vestido de noiva. Muiti bonito e a ideia que vem da história tradicional popular encanta.
    Também acho graça aos poemas mal escritos.

  • Ana, o quanto queria ter um! Sao lindos e uma preciosidade! :-)

  • Aproveito para mostrar o resultado da junção do tradicional com a inovação. Malas feitas em câmara de ar aliadas aos bordados tradicionais de Vila Verde “Lenços dos namorados” Espero que gostem.