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July 23, 2008 > Portuguese Festa keeps traditions alive

Portuguese Festa keeps traditions alive

By Julie Grabowski

From April to August, Portuguese Holy Spirit societies celebrate their heritage and beliefs with Holy Ghost Festas throughout the Bay Area. Brought to California by Portuguese immigrants from the Azores Islands, the Holy Ghost Festa celebrates the faith of the Holy Spirit, St. Isabel and the "miracle of the roses." Isabel was the sixth queen of Portugal, tenderhearted and devoted to the poor. One day as she was taking bread to the needy, her less compassionate husband King Diniz stopped her and demanded to know what she concealed. Queen Isabel told him it was roses, though these flowers were scarce at that time of year. When she revealed what was in her mantle, the bread had been turned into roses.

Newark's Sociedade Do Espirito Santo (S.E.S.) hosts the finale of Tri-Cities celebrations with their 86th Holy Ghost Festa July 26 and 27 at the Newark Pavilion. 45 other organizations will join in the festivities, as well as the community at large. "It's a way to keep our tradition alive, and an opportunity to feed anyone in need," says S.E.S. secretary and former president Mary Fatima Teixeira. Unsurprisingly, involvement is also a family affair. Teixeira's father and husband have served as president, and her two daughters have participated as queens and sidemaids. She says the traditions are especially important to impart to the younger generation.

Around 8,000 people are anticipated for the two-day celebration, which begins Saturday with Holy Mass led by Father Hugo Franca in front of the Capela at 11 a.m. The traditional Bodo de Leite follows at 12:45, a parade of cows, bulls, calves, and horses from valley ranchers accompanied by queens, sidemaids, ox carts, and marching band. The procession circles Pavilion grounds, beginning at the main gate onto Thornton Avenue, down Arden Street, along Plummer Avenue to Cherry Street and back to the Pavilion. Sweet bread and milk will then be distributed to everyone present, symbolizing St. Isabel's love and devotion to the poor and hungry. Food booths and games will also be open at this time.

An auction will be held in front of the Capela offering a variety of items from homemade goods, fruits and vegetables to plants and dishware. Donations are welcome, and those wishing to contribute should bring their items to the Capela where a volunteer will assist you. All money raised goes to fund the event. At 3 p.m. the pens are loosed for the Vacada (running of the calves), where little ones get their individual chances to show off.

The evening festivities begin with the rosary in the Capela at 7 p.m. followed by a concert from Recreio do Emigrante Portuguese Band. For those sure of foot, dancing will be held from 8 p.m. to midnight in the ballroom with music provided by Progresso. The presentation of queens, sidemaids, escorts and officers will be at 8:30. Queens are an important part of the Festa and serve as representations of St. Isabel. The girls range in age from 5 to 21 and must be members of S.E.S. Queens are selected at the president's discretion and are often relatives or family friends; the girls are then responsible for choosing their own sidemaids. Elizabeth Rocha is this year's Queen Santa Isabel; Leanna Couto, granddaughter of President Serafina Couto and daughter of Treasurer Frank Couto, is the Baby Queen with sidemaids Gabriela Mendes and Jessica Silva; Junior Queen Sabrina Carauta and Senior Queen Nicole Silva are friends of the Couto family, serving with sidemaids Kelsey Eaton and Gia Stepter, Adriana Ramos and Nicole DaCosta. The girls keep their status throughout the year and take part in other society's festas. This year's officers are President Serafina Couto, Vice President Teresa Teixeira, Treasurer Frank Couto, Secretary Mary Fatima Teixeira, and Marshall Manuel Peixoto.

To experience true musical prowess, be in the dining hall at 9 p.m. for the cantoria. Cantoria is a form of evening entertainment from the old country where songs are spontaneously created with improvised verses sung in a distinctive rhythmic manner. Four men will undertake this poetic challenge, where the results promise to always be fresh and entertaining.

Events culminate Sunday morning with a special mass at St. Edwards Catholic Church where the queens will be crowned. At 10:45 a.m. a parade of about 2,000 people including queens, sidemaids, and other organization members will make their way from the Pavilion to St Edwards for the 11:30 a.m. mass. Back on Pavilion grounds a free meal of sopas e carne will be served, a traditional dish of slow cooked meat and beef broth poured over French bread with cabbage. Servings will be at 11 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. The auction will resume and proceed until all items are gone, and sweet bread will be for sale in the Capela. Progresso tunes up for dancing once again from 5-9 p.m.

Preparations for the Festa begin a year in advance and require a tremendous amount of time and effort, not to mention provisions. 12,000 pounds of meat, 1,600 loaves of bread, and 45 cases of cabbage will be served to the community. Mary Fatima Teixeira especially notes the great efforts of President Serafina Couto in managing this year's festivities, calling her a very thoughtful lady. "I just really want to compliment her on her good work this year," says Teixeira. S.E.S. would also like to extend their gratitude to all the businesses that gave donations and support throughout the year. Events are free and open to all.

For more information call Mary Fatima Teixeira at (510) 714-7835.


Newark Holy Ghost Festa
Saturday, July 26
11 a.m. opening mass
12:45 Bodo de Leite
Games, food, auction
3 p.m. Vacada
7 p.m. rosary (concert, dancing, cantoria follow)
Newark Pavilion
6430 Thornton Avenue

Sunday, July 27
10:45 a.m. procession to St. Edwards Catholic Church (11:30 a.m. mass)
5788 Thornton Avenue
11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. sopas
5-9 p.m. dancing

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