July 18, 2006 > A Portuguese Tradition
A Portuguese Tradition
Over 50 Portuguese organizations will gather on Sunday, July 23 as a culmination of the 84th Newark Pavilion/SES (Sociedad do Espirito Santo) Holy Ghost Festival. This celebration of the life of St. Isabel, Queen of Portugal, is one of a series of such festivals held during the summer months. Parade participants included Holy Ghost "Queens" and "Little Queens" with their courts from Catholic churches and social organizations throughout the greater Bay Area and beyond.
It is said that in the 14th century, during the reign of King Diniz, his wife, Queen Isabel (Elizabeth) was saddened by the plight of the people who were starving. She prayed to God to help. One story is that she pledged her jewels as a token of her faith. The king found her with the jewels hidden in her apron. But, when he demanded to see what was hidden, the jewels changed into white roses. It was winter and roses could not grow at that time...a miracle!
The next day, two abandoned ships appeared in the harbor, one with grain and another with animals. The queen ordered that bread be made and the animals prepared to feed the poor. She crowned one of the poorest men to be "emperior" and invited all to a great feast. So the Holy Ghost Festival tradition began.
Today, Holy Ghost Festivals are organized by social, fraternal and Portuguese heritage groups. Celebrations usually last three days and culminate with a procession to a Catholic church where a special Mass is held. Processions feature participants dressed in traditional finery including Festa queens wearing elegant white gowns and hand-beaded exquisite capes. A dinner of sopas (soup), prepared with meat and spices, follows. Holy Ghost Festas are held throughout the year, many attended by Portuguese organizations from near and far. Previously, Union City held its 77th Festa May 12 to 14 and Hayward, its 107th June 16 to18. Fremont celebrated in the Mission San Jose district on June 25 and in the Centerville district on June 4.
This tradition was brought to the Bay Area by Portuguese sailors, primarily from the Azore Islands who dominated European exploration on the high seas in the 15th century. The lure of adventure and the shortage of land on the Azore Islands prompted young men to work on whaling vessels, sailing around the world. California became a destination for many during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Those who were unsuccessful mining gold turned to the land and farmed. Working as tenant farmers, they saved to buy their own farms and became an important part of the dairy industry and excelled in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables.
Local Holy Ghost Festivals remind Tri-City residents of the rich heritage of and contributions by the Portuguese-American community to our area. They know how to throw a great party too!
Holy Ghost Procession
Sunday, July 23
10:30 a.m. (Mass at 11:30 a.m.)
Newark Pavilion to St. Edward Church
6430 Thornton Ave. (at Cherry St.) to 5788 Thornton Ave.