By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers
Being that Portuguese immigrants settled the Riverside-Pocket area more than a century ago, it should come as no surprise that one of the area’s oldest events is the Sacramento Holy Ghost Festa. The festa is a Portuguese religious festival honoring Portugal’s 14th century queen, Isabela, who was later canonized a saint.
Known as the Riverside Holy Ghost Festa until 1966, this local event was first held in the Pocket in 1914.
This festa or “festival” is actually older, as it began in 1897 in the Associacao Azoreana do Divino Espirito Santo (Azorean Association of the Divine Holy Spirit) or AADES, Grant. Grant was an area in today’s Carmichael.
The demise of the Portuguese population in the Grant area resulted from the relocation of the Portuguese lodge to the Pocket, which had developed into a sizable Portuguese settlement.
The move was made possible through Francisco J. Luiz (later Frank Lewis, Sr.), who with his neighbor, Antone Pereira Rodrigues (Antone Rodrigues Perry), would travel about 18 miles from the Pocket to the Grant area to attend the AADES lodge meetings.
Luiz donated two acres of land from his ranch in the Pocket for the purpose of moving the lodge from the Grant area to the more populated and still growing Pocket area.
In feeling that the relocation of the lodge to Luiz’s propert
y provided the best situation for the future of AADES, the organization’s members approved the relocation through a vote.
In 1909, the building was cut in half and transported via large wagons and teams of horses and reassembled on the land that Luiz had donated.
Once relocated, the lodge was used by the organization for its meeting hall.
The structure, which is located on Pocket Road (the old Riverside Road), a quarter mile from where Park Riviera Way branches out from Riverside Boulevard, was also used for the storage of items such as flags and banners for the festa.
The organization’s move to the Pocket helped the AADES to substantially increase its treasury to an extent that the lodge was able to construct a new, two-story hall adjacent to the clubhouse.
Construction of the new hall was completed in 1913 and the old hall was remodeled in
to the Igreja de Santa Maria (St. Maria Church).
The building of the new hall resulted in the debut of the Riverside Holy Ghost Festa.
The 2003 Portuguese Heritage Publications of California book, “The Holy Ghost Festas” – a history of Portuguese festas in California – does well in describing the immigrants’ desire to hold festas in the Golden State.
The book notes that in addition to carrying on the Holy Ghost Festa tradition of their homeland, the immigrants also desired to “blend in, to belong and to feel accepted.” And the festas held in California helped to fulfill such desires.
In carrying forth the festa tradition from the Grant area, the Portuguese of the Pocket area held the first Riverside Holy Ghost Festa in conjunction with the church’s dedication on May 31, 1914.
In addition to the AADES festa, a festa was also held at the same location by another Portuguese lodge, IDES (an abbreviation for a Portuguese name meaning the “Brotherhood of the Divine Holy Ghost”) No. 125. This latter mentioned lodge, which included many local far
mers and dairymen, was founded in the Riverside area on Dec. 27, 1913. This lodge’s festa was last held in about the early 1940s.
At the first AADES Riverside Holy Ghost Festa, Mary Silva, who was about 15 years old, was selected as the festa queen.
The festa queens were selected in various ways such as being appointed by the lodge president, the number of tickets sold or favoritism by the organization.
The young women chosen to be queen generally range in age from 15 to 17 years old.
A junior queen – an honor that was not part of the Riverside Holy Ghost Festa – is also selected from girls between the ages of about 13 to about 15 years old.
In very large organizations, thus not including the featured lodge, a “baby queen” is sometimes represented.
The festa queen usually appoints two or three side maids to assist her with her duties in the festa parade.
The parade is the integral part of the event and features decorated floats, flags and lodge banners, Portuguese and other local bands, queens from other areas such as Rio Vista and Dixon, and officers of the organizations.
Additional parts of the event include a barbecue of marinated beef, a Mass, in which the queens are crowned by the priest and a feast that commemorates Queen Isabela feeding her poor during the great, 14th century famine of Europe.
Although this is a traditional Portuguese event, other members of the community who appreciate other cultural gatherings are welcome to attend this year’s festa, which will be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 11-12.
The Saturday barbecue, which mostly consists of potluck items with families purchasing spits of meat for their groups, will begin at about 5 p.m. and will be followed by the presentation of the queens later in the evening, generally at about 8 p.m.
On Sunday, the parade begins at 9 a.m. at Portuguese Hall and travels along a specified route on its way to the church, where Mass and the crowning of the queens is held.
Following the crowning ceremony, the procession forms again and marches on a route back to the hall.
The queens are first seated to preside over the feast of sopas and carne (soup and meat) – pans of sliced French bread and mint ladled with the gravy of the cooked beef, along with platters of the meat. The other parade participants follow the queens and their aides prior to all others attending the festa.
After the feast, guests will exit an area featuring an intricately decorated alter consisting of the crown and displays of flowers.
Attendants at this exit will accept donations and pin a commemorative ribbon on the shirt or bodice of each guest.