One often hears about how Santa Clara ‘used to have” parades. Actually, Santa Clara does have parades – in fact, four of them every year.
These are the colorful Portuguese parades down Lafayette Street, between the Sociedade do Espírito Santo (S.E.S) Hall and St.Clare’s Church, as part of festas (festivals) honoring the S.E.S.’s patron saints: the Holy Spirit, St. Cecilia, St. Anthony, and Our Lady of Fatima.
The festas are living expressions of Santa Clara’s deep connection to Portugal, both through the many Portuguese-Americans who call the city home and Santa Clara’s Sister City relationship with Coimbra.
The height of the two-day celebrations are the Sunday round-trip parades, and at then center of them are the Festa Rainhas (Festival Queens) with their long-trained capes and maids in matching stoles. Accompanying them are Portuguese marching bands from other parts of the Bay Area and state, Santa Clara’s own Sociedade Filarmonica Uniao Portuguesa (United Portuguese Philharmonic Society) marching band, and rose-covered floats carrying statues of the S.E.S. patron saints.
Last Sunday marked the S.E.S.’ 118th Holy Spirit Festa, and, as always, it brought together many generations of Portuguese-Americans; some who are fairly recent immigrants, and some whose families have lived in Santa Clara for generations.
Connie Tavares was a queen 28 years ago. This year, her daughter was a queen and one of her maids was the daughter of one of Tavares’ maids all those years ago. Though she moved to Manteca, all of her children are in the Portuguese band, and Tavares is at the S.E.S. almost every week.
Made in jewel-toned velvet, each cape and stole is elaborately embroidered and intricately beaded. They’re handmade by Santa Clara seamstress Mary Dutra, using traditional designs from the Azores, and each one is unique. Queens and maids that successfully complete their two-year reigns get to keep their capes, which means that new ones are made every two years.
The tradition of the Rainhas, comes from the Portuguese Queen, St. Isabel of Aragon (1271- 1336), who was known for her generosity to the poor. Today Isabel is venerated in Santa Clara church in Coimbra.
When the parade returns from St. Clare’s to the S.E.S Hall, there is a grand feast of sopas, a traditional dish of savory stewed meat, broth and cabbage served over bread. And there’s plenty to eat, free to all who come.
The kitchen team works all day and night Friday and Saturday, cooking over 8,000 pounds of beef and crate upon crate of cabbage. A scurrying army of waiters sends bowl after steaming bowl of fragrant sopas to two dining rooms.
Following lunch, people can enjoy an auction of handicrafts, Portuguese sweets – suspiros (meringues), bolachas de acucor cookies – pungent St. Jorge cheese and enjoy music from the Portuguese band. Hefty loaves of Portuguese sweet bread are also for sale. The festa closes in the evening with the distribution of traditional Rosquilhas, cookies that symbolize the sweetness of the Holy Spirit.
There are three more festas this year where you can enjoy a parade with the Portuguese Band, see the Rainhas, and enjoy sopas:
- St. Anthony on July 12-13
- St. Cecilia on Sept. 13-14
- Our Lady of Fatima on Oct. 11-12.
The day before there’s often a faire with music, food and a bazaar.
The Sunday parade begins at 9:30 a.m. at the S.E.S. Hall on 1375 Lafayette at Lewis, and proceeds to St. Claire’s Church on 941 Lexington, for a 10:30 Mass. The return trip starts at about 11:30. Lunch follows at the S.E.S. Hall. And everyone is welcome.