Portuguese ‘Festa’ Draws Thousands to Small Town

October 1, 2015 /

Photo: Claudia J. Gonzalez


By: Claudia J. Gonzalez


Gustine, Calif.— Thousands of people descended on the small Merced County town of Gustine over the weekend for the 79th Annual Our Lady of Miracles Portuguese Festa.

The ten-day event, organized by the Our Lady of Miracles Society, has been attracting people from all over California, and as far away as Portugal, since 1936.

This Portuguese traditional festival began in the mid 1700s in the Azorean islands, and was eventually brought to the community of Gustine by immigrants committed to preserving their culture.

Festivities began on September 4th with a special Mass and concluded the following week with a traditional bullfight.  This weekend saw three days full of processions, Masses, folk dancing, prayers, auctions and traditional food.

At Gustine’s Henry Miller Park, the site for this year’s celebration, food booths and live performances entertained the crowds of families. Sunday’s activities commenced with the annual parade and Procession of the Queens.  

Bethany Souza, 19, traveled from the Bay Area for the festivities. Many years ago her maternal grandmother made the trip to California from Portugal.  

She says attending the Festa has become a tradition in her family that allows her “to connect with [her] Portuguese heritage.”

Of all the festivities, Souza says that eating ‘sopa’ with her grandmother is what she looks forward to the most.  The delicious beef soup made with cabbage and bread and served to parade-goers free of charge every year. According to Souza, the  soup giveaway is meant to commemorate Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, who dedicated her life to feeding the poor.

“You don’t have to be Portuguese to be part of this celebration,” added Souza. “This event is about spending time with family and the community. Everyone is welcomed.”

For more information about Our Lady of Miracles and photos from this year event, visit their Facebook page.   


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