Provincetown Portuguese Festival and Blessing of the Fleet Anniversary

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After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, people will again dance through the streets of Provincetown to celebrate the town’s historic fishing industry and Portuguese heritage.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Blessing of the Fleet and 25th anniversary of the Portuguese Dayand the two combine for a four-day celebration.

The opening dinner Thursday, June 23 at the Provincetown Inn is sold out, but there are plenty of other activities over the next three days that involve food, crafts, live music, fishing, dancing and more.

Portuguese dancers from Rancho Folclorico de Nossa Senhora de Fatima perform in Lopes Square at the 2019 Provincetown Portuguese Festival and Blessing of the Fleet.

“It really is a great reunion weekend,” said Maureen Hurst, a longtime member of the Portuguese Festival team. “All of us who grew up in Provincetown when it was a big fishing community have very strong ties 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 locations. For a full schedule: https://provincetownportuguesefestival.com/.

Friday events include a local craft fair, fishing tournament, soup tasting, face painting and live music. A highlight at 2 p.m. Crown and Anchor Station (247 Commercial St.) will be readings by Portuguese writers and poets, featuring novelist/poet Frank Gasparwho 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. at Motta Field (25 Winslow St.), commercial fishing demonstrations, Portuguese folk dancers, and a parade at 3 p.m. on Commercial St. The Toe Jam Puppet Group will perform for the children’s entertainment and a comedy show by The Portuguese Kids will show the funniest side of growing up with ethnic parents. Music takes center stage on Saturday night with a fado concert followed by a samba band.

“Fado is a very important part of the festival,” says Hurst, crediting committee member Liliana DeSousa for adding the tradition to the festival. “It’s like Portuguese soul music.”

Father Mick McCullough of St. Peter the Apostle Church last year sprinkled holy water on boats during the 74th annual Blessing of the Fleet, the only event held from the annual Portuguese festival.  McCullough was escorted through the dock slips at MacMillan Pier by the Harbor Master's Office.

The heart and soul of the festival will be the blessing of the fleet on Sunday. Bishop Edgar Moreia da Cunha of the Diocese of Fall River will do the honors of blessing the ships for a safe and abundant season.

The event will begin with a Fisherman’s Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Peter the Apostle Church (11 Prince Street). Then, local fishermen will carry a statue of St. Peter from the church to MacMillan Pier. A procession will follow them.

To mark the 25th anniversary, Maureen Hurt compiled the headlines over the years about the Provincetown Portuguese Festival and the Blessing of the Fleet.

“The procession is very meaningful as all of us who come from fishing families will be showing up with our boat banners with the names of the boats,” Hurst said. “A lot of them are boats that belonged to our parents and grandparents and there are also people who have boats in the fleet at the moment, and we all go down to the dock with our families. It’s really nice to see.

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Bishop da Cunha will stand on a platform at the end of the wharf and bless the decorated boats as they pass by him. Fishing boats will leave first. The lobster boats and dredgers will come out into the harbor and make a big circle. The lead boat is chosen by the fishing fleet.

“Once the commercial fleet is blessed, anyone can line up to be blessed – kayaks, sailboats, motorboats, rowboats,” Hurst added.

The 2019 procession from St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown to the annual Blessing of the Fleet off MacMillan Pier.

A long personal story

Although the festival is a destination event for many, for those involved in the planning, it reflects their family history and the history of their city of which they are proud.

Nancy Silva, another longtime member of the Portuguese Festival team, shared a copy of a story of the very first Blessing of the Fleet, published by the Cape Cod Standard-Times on June 28, 1948. The story reports that nearly 4,000 spectators crammed onto the pier and thousands more lined the streets to watch the procession. There were around 400 fishermen at the time and most, if not all, were of Portuguese descent.

Don Murphy, a member of the team for 20 years, added that in 1947 Domingos Godinho and Arthur Bragg Silva heard of a fleet blessing in Gloucester so they traveled there to observe the celebration. They were so excited by what they saw that they planned a similar event in Provincetown the following year, he said.

At first it was an event for anglers and their families, but quickly grew to include friends and townspeople as almost everyone in town was connected to anglers in one way or another.

During the 2019 Provincetown Portuguese Festival, the last held before the pandemic cancellations, a dancer from Rancho Folclorico de Nossa Senhora de Fatima played castanets while the band performed in Lopes Square.

“We’re talking about a time when families in Provincetown were predominantly 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 the fishing factories,” says Murphy.

Over the next 50 years, the fishing fleet gradually became smaller, and the blessing of the fleet declined from its peak. Provincetown native Mark Silva decided to try to revive it and added Provincetown’s first Portuguese festival 25 years ago to celebrate not only the fishermen, but also the town’s Portuguese heritage.

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It was a hugely successful idea that has grown exponentially over the years and Murphy credits the success to the team of over 100 volunteers.

“It evolved very successfully because the common vision was so well defined,” he said. “Mark did a great job of establishing that and[members of]the festival team were all on the same page, so it just kept growing.”

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