Festival celebrates Portuguese culture

Photo by Steve’s Freelance Photography

From left, Andrea Rebiskie, Aurea Hernandez, Kaelyn Vail, Sofia Oliveira, Ava Oliveira and Anamaria Oliveira comprise this year’s court.

In a yearly tradition highlighting Portuguese culture and heritage, the Holy Ghost Festa swept the streets of Oakley last weekend with a parade followed by a community feast.

Put on by Flor Do Oakley, a nonprofit Portuguese organization, this year’s event was held Sunday, July 21. Area youth participated in the event by taking on significant parade roles, which represented legendary individuals.

O’Hara Park Middle School seventh-grader Sofia Oliveira and Timber Point Elementary School fourth-grader Kaelyn Vail were front and center as queen and small queen, respectively.

“Parading is important to me because it has a wonderful history to why we do it,” said Sofia. “We are celebrating the miracle of the Holy Ghost and Queen Isabella of Portugal.”

Sofia further noted the event serves the community by offering Holy Ghost sopas – traditional soup – to attendees for free.

“We are proud of our young ladies representing our Holy Ghost Festa,” said Elaine Silva-Conrad, event co-president alongside her husband Donald Conrad.

The Festa is in commemoration of Queen Isabel and the story of a miracle. In 1282, Queen Isabel was married off to King Denis of Portugal at the age of 12 and was known for her compassion toward the poor. She was said to leave the palace with a cloak full of bread to bring food to the hungry against her husband’s wishes. When he caught her sneaking out one day, he demanded to know what she hid in her cloak. She told him she held roses, but he didn’t believe her and ordered her to open it. Legend has it a miracle turned the bread into roses. In honor of this, the Holy Ghost Festa is held each year on the third Sunday in July. Queens and sidemaids, comprised of young Portuguese girls in the community, are an integral component of the celebration.

As queen during the Festa, Sofia represented Queen Isabel and was dedicated to choosing the decorations and theme color for the Oakley banquet hall. Her sidemaids were her sister, Ava Oliveira, and her cousin, Anamarie Oliveira.

As the small queen, Kaelyn also had sidemaids – Aurea Hernandez of Tracy and Andrea Rebiskie of San Ramon, both of whom have become her close friends through family and participation in Flor Do Oakley.

“My role as a small queen is to go to other Portuguese societies, Holy Ghost Festas and represent Flor Do Oakley,” said Kaelyn. “Participating in this event is important to me because I get to be a part of my Portuguese heritage and its traditions.”