After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, people will once again dance the streets of Provincetown to celebrate the city’s historic fishing industry and Portuguese heritage.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Blessing of the Navy and the 25th anniversary of the Portuguese Festival, both of which unite for a four-day celebration.
The opening dinner on Thursday, June 23 at the Provincetown Inn is sold out, but over the next three days there are many other activities that include food, crafts, live music, fishing, dancing and more.
“This is a really great weekend to return home,” said Maureen Hirst, a longtime member of the Portuguese festival team. “All of us who grew up in Provincetown when it was a large fishing community have very strong connections and very happy memories.”
Portuguese food, words and stories
There will be entertainment from morning to night on Ryder Street, which has been renamed Portuguese Square, and other places. For the full schedule: https://provincetownportuguesefestival.com/.
Friday’s events include a local craft fair, a fishing derby, soup tasting, face painting and live music. The highlight at 14:00 at Crown & Anchor Resort (247 Commercial St.) will be readings by Portuguese writers and poets, featuring nationally acclaimed writer / poet Frank Gaspar, who was born and raised in the West End of Provincetown.
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Saturday’s events will include field games at 10 a.m. in Motta Field (25 Winslow St.), demonstrations of commercial fishing, Portuguese folk dancers and a parade at 3 p.m. on Commercial St. The Toe Jam Puppet Band will perform for children’s entertainment and a comedy show from The Portuguese Kids will show the funnier side of growing up with ethnic parents. The music took center stage on Saturday night with a fado concert, followed by a samba band.
“Fado is a really important part of the festival,” says Hearst, crediting committee member Liliana DeSusa for adding tradition to the festival. “It’s like Portuguese soul music.”
The heart and soul of the festival will be the Sunday Blessing of the Navy on Sunday. Bishop Edgar Morea da Cunha of the Diocese of Fol River will do the honor of blessing the ships for a safe and prosperous season.
The event will begin with a fishing liturgy from 10:30 am in the church “St. Apostle Peter” (11 Knyaz Street). Then local fishermen will move a statue of St. Peter from the church down to Macmillan Quay. They will be followed by a procession.
“The procession makes a lot of sense because all of us who come from fishing families will show up with our boat banners with the names of the boats,” Hearst said. “Many of them are boats that were owned by our parents and grandparents, and there are some people who have boats in the fleet right now and we are all going down to the pier with our families. It’s really nice to see you. “
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Bishop da Cunha will stand on a platform at the end of the pier and bless the decorated boats as they pass. Fishing boats will go first. The boats and dredgers will go out into the port and make a big circle. The leading boat is chosen by the fishing fleet.
“Once the merchant navy is blessed, everyone can be blessed – kayaks, sailboats, motorboats, rowing boats,” Hearst added.
Long personal history
Although the festival is a destination for many, for those involved in planning, it reflects their family history and the history of their city, which they are proud of.
Nancy Silva, another longtime member of the Portuguese team at the festival, shared a copy of the story of the first Blessing of the Navy, published by the Cape Cod Standard-Times on June 28, 1948. The story reports that nearly 4,000 spectators crowded the quay and thousands more they lined the streets to watch the procession. There were about 400 fishermen at the time, and most, if not all, were of Portuguese descent.
Don Murphy, part of the 20-year-old team, added that in 1947, Domingos Godinho and Arthur Brag Silva heard about the Blessing of the Gloucester Navy, so they went there to watch the celebration. They were so excited about what they saw that they were planning a similar event in Provincetown next year, he said.
It was originally an event for fishermen and their families, but it quickly grew to include friends and residents of the city, because almost everyone in the city was connected to fishermen in some way.
“We’re talking about a time when families in Provincetown were mostly Portuguese, and if they didn’t have a boat, they more than likely had a relative in the house who worked on a boat or worked in a fishing business,” Murphy said.
Over the next 50 years, the fishing fleet gradually became smaller and the Blessings of the fleet diminished from its heyday. Provincetown-born Mark Silva decided to try to revive it and added the first Portuguese festival in Provincetown 25 years ago to celebrate not only fishermen but also the city’s Portuguese heritage.
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It was a hugely successful idea that has grown exponentially over the years, and Murphy acknowledges the team of more than 100 volunteers for the achievement.
“It was very successful because the overall vision was so well defined,” he said. “Mark did a great job of finding this out and (the members of the festival team) were on the same page, so he just kept growing.”