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Santana House at the New Bedford Portuguese Feast
Santana House at the New Bedford Portuguese Feast.

The New Bedford Portuguese Feast Survival Guide

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By Shonna McGrail

This is our 2011 New Bedford Portuguese Feat article. Check out of 8 Things to Know About the 2012 Portuguese Feast article for information on the 2012 Feast.

The New Bedford Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, a.k.a. the Portuguese Feast, a.k.a. Madeira Feast is the largest event the city has every year.  More than that, it is the largest Portuguese feast in the world and the largest ethnic festival in New England.  The feast was founded in 1915 by four Madeiran immigrants who wanted to recreate the festivities of their home island.

Between my own experience with the feast, some careful research and some very helpful guidance from Ed Camara, the Director of Media and Public Relations for Clube Madeirense S.S. Sacramento, I have come up with an overview of the feast which has become a major attraction for visitors from all over who come to celebrate the Portuguese culture through food, drink and entertainment.

For this year’s 2011 feast, over 100,000 attendees are anticipated.  If you are considering being one of them, here are eight things you should know about the feast:

1. Time and Location

The Portuguese Feast New Bedford MAIf you have never been to the feast it naturally makes sense to let you know where to go and when to be there.  The feast is a a four day event, officially kicking off at 6:00 PM on Thursday, August 4th.  The grounds close at 11:45 each night.

On Friday the grounds re-open from 6 PM to 11:45 PM.  The weekend hours start a bit earlier with Saturday festivities begin at 10 AM for the 5K road race followed by Kid’s Day afternoon.  The last day of the feast is Sunday which starts off with a parade at 2:00 PM.  For more information on when and where events will be taking place, go to the Portuguese Feast Entertainment Schedule.

Most of the events take place at Madeira Field (a permanent location in New Bedford’s north end) that comes to life one weekend a year for the Portuguese Feast festivities.  The address of Madeira Field is 50 Madeira Avenue, New Bedford, MA.  Parking can be a bit tricky, you may have to plan to search a bit to find a spot and walk a few blocks, or pay to park in a nearby lot.

2. Costs

The festival allows free admission and entertainment thanks to the hard work of the 52 committee members who comprise the 2011 Feast of the Blessed Sacrament Committee.  While admission is free there are also many vendors at the grounds selling everything from handmade Madeiran souvenirs to cigars.

Tickets may also be purchased to buy authentic Portuguese cuisine or, if you’re over 21, an impressive selection of alcoholic beverages.  Tickets cost a dollar each and can be purchased at ten machines located throughout the grounds by placing a five, ten or twenty dollar bill inside.  Tickets are non-refundable.  There are also stands with employees who sell the tickets.

Prices of food are kept reasonable, and I was informed by the Mr. Camara (who has been a part of the feast’s organization since 1982) that prices on some items are actually lower than past feasts and no prices have been increased in the past two years.  To give you a general idea of the prices of items at the feast, a full meal is 12 tickets (which equates to 12 dollars), most sandwiches are around four tickets, and a soda or a water goes for one ticket.

3. Food

carne de espeto
carne de espeto!

One of the greatest features of the feast is the delicious Portuguese fare.  There are many food stands located throughout Madeira Field that serve your favorites from the simple delights of linguica and cacoila sandwiches to full on Portuguese cuisine plates of chicken, beef, goat or tuna with potatoes, rice and vegetables.

Another major culinary draw is the Carne de Espeto, a massive, 40 foot barbecue pit where beef sirloin cubes can be cooked over an open flame on massive skewers.  This is hard to miss since the aroma is absolutely mouth watering.  Visitors are able to buy the meat for eight tickets a pound and a delicious aromatic salt is provided to cook with.  Visitors are then able to roast their own dinner over the gas-fired lava rock grill.  Mr. Camara advised me that if someone tells you to pour Madeira wine on the meat it is not advisable (it does not help the flavor and causes the meat to burn faster!)

In case you are not accustomed to the flavorful cooking style of Portuguese cuisine, go to the Food & Drink page of the Portuguese Feast website for definitions of some of the food you might expect to see.

4. Drink

One of the great draws of the feast is the consumption of Madeira wine, which is a central part of the festivities as it is part of a long tradition.  Madeira wine is a sweet, fortified red wine.  Genuine Madeira wine is made on the island of Madeira, and exportation of actual barrels are restricted due to regulations.  However, thanks to a special agreement made between feast officials and the President of Madeira, casks are able to be delivered to New Bedford and served for the weekend, making this a very rare treat for those who attend.

For those who want an alternative to Madeira wine, there are a great variety of additional options including a full liquor bar for mix drinks.  Alcohol stands also serve sangria and white wine and Budweiser beer is on tap.

5. Entertainment

folcloricoThere is a great deal of quality free entertainment at the feast each year from Portuguese and American cultures.  There are three stages throughout Madeira field, and each host a variety of performance types throughout the weekend.  In addition, the Museum of Madeiran Heritage will be featuring musical performances each night of the feast.  These performances will be featuring fado music, a Portuguese genre of music that can be traced back to the 1820s but is believed to be even older than that.  For a schedule of who will be performing go here.

One of the cultural acts that you may see take the stage at Madeira field is Groupo Folclorico Clube Madeirense S.S. Sacramento.  This group of dancers present traditional dancing performances to authentic Madeiran music and in traditional clothing.  These performances are always very spirited and interesting to see.

There will be many bands on the smaller stages during the feast, but the largest stage is reserved for a special performance at 10:00 each night.  Thursday night the band Soul Asylum will take the stage.  Soul Asylum had two platinum albums, and are perhaps best known for the song “Runaway Train.”

Friday night will feature Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, a band from Martha’s Vineyard that specializes in “bluesy dance music” according to their website.  On Saturday a Green Day tribute band called Dookie will be the main stage highlight to cap off the evening, and Backseat Lover will be playing Pearl Jam tribute music for the final night of the feast.

6. Families

Portuguese Feast family EventsSince Madeira feast involves alcohol consumption, some readers may be wondering if it is a family appropriate event.  You will be glad to know that family values are integral to the foundation of the feast.  While it is probably not advisable to bring young children later in the night due to large crowds and loud music, it should be mentioned that there are many features of the feast that children will love.  Also, the feast takes great measures to prohibit underage drinking.  All who wish to consume alcoholic beverages are required to undergo a license verification process in order to receive a specially printed wrist band.

An interesting part of the feast is that it features carnival rides and games all weekend.  Saturday is probably the best day for families with young kids thanks to Kids Day Afternoon which follows the 12th annual 5K road race.  Kids day kicks off at 12:15 PM and involves a children’s theatre, Toe Jam puppet show and much more family friendly entertainment.

For senior citizens in the community, special transport is being offered from the parking lot of Lincoln Elementary on Saturday so that seniors can attend the event without having to worry about parking.  They are also being offered the special deal of half price meals from noon to four o’clock that day, and special entertainment will be featured as well.

7. History

The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament gains its roots from the island of Madeira which is located 390 miles off the coast of Morocco.  Traditionally, each Roman Catholic parish in Madeira would observe a festival to celebrate their patron saint.  A committee of four men called festeiros would be responsible for preparing the village for the celebration by decorating the streets, contracting entertainment (often in the form of a brass band and fireworks) and holding a ceremonial meal after mass on Sunday.

There are many versions of the tale of why the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament was first begun in New Bedford 97 years ago.  What is certain however is that the feast was initiated as a means of preserving basic values of the Madeiran culture.  Of course, since it was first begun the feast has changed in many ways to accommodate thousands of eager participants and modern elements of celebration.

While there have been many changes in the feast, many aspects still remain central to the celebration.  The tradition of Madeira wine is a very old one, dating back to the 15th Century when the Malvasia vine was planted on the island of Madeira to see it would yield an alternative supply of wine for England.  When growth was successful Madeira wine quickly took to the market, but did not become a major export until many years later.  It wasn’t until the 16th Century that the flavor we know of today was created when they discovered that the flavor of the wine was actually improved by being repeatedly heated up.  Follow the link for more information on the history of Madeira wine.

The religious aspect of the feast also remains a part of proceedings.  As it did in 1915, the feast still takes place near Our Lady of Immaculate Conception which is located on the corner of Earle and Madeira Street in New Bedford.  The Portuguese feast pays homage to its religious traditions by beginning the weekend festivities with a procession to the church where Father Daniel O. Reis gives a Benediction to the Blessed Sacrament.  Throughout the weekend the church also hosts the music of organist Edward Viveiros and vocalist Derek Capobianco each evening from 6:00 to 9:00 PM.

8. Madeira Field

Santana House at the New Bedford Portuguese Feast
Santana House at the New Bedford Portuguese Feast.

The grounds on which the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament takes place are quite expansive and easy to lose people in.  Be sure you have a plan for finding lost party members whether it be by cell phone or a designated area to meet up at.

When entering the feast you will need to get in line for a wrist band if you wish to purchase alcoholic beverages.  One of the most prominent features you will notice upon entering the festival grounds is the Santana House.  The house is designed after the colorful architectural styles of the homes in the village Santana, Madeira and is where the Madeira wine is served from.

Across from the Santana House is Stage One, which is massive and where the main attractions will be hosted throughout the weekend.  There are also two other smaller stages, one that is inside the gates and the other which is outside and amongst the souvenir vendors. You will also see many food and drink stands throughout the grounds, and towards the back you will find the barbecue pits for Carne de Espeto (or just follow your nose).

Enjoy the feast! If you enjoyed this article please share it. All photos courtesy of the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament 2011.

About SRyan

The South Coast has been my home since I came to UMD in 2005. I have worked and lived in NB, and now live in Westport. With a Master's in public relations I have worked as a consultant, and as a professor. I love trying new foods, writing, watching movies (and football!), traveling, listening to a wide array of music, and of course, I <3 the South Coast.

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5 comments

  1. Mary Anne Letourneau

    The definition of sacrilege: “1. the misuse or desecration of anything regarded as sacred or as worthy of extreme respect.”

    The feast has become mostly a demonstration of all that is ugly about American culture, albeit with a little bit of traditional Portuguese culture showcased. Take a look at the “entertainment,” the behavior of many in the crowd, the way women dress (and men, too), some of the vendors selling disgusting items, the parade featuring politicians who support moral abominations that are affronts to the Blessed Sacrament. It is time to totally remove the name of the Blessed Sacrament, Our Blessed Lord Himself, from the feast. Call it the Portuguese Feast, Madeira Feast if you want to associate your once-beautiful culture with the perverse. But once and for all, please stop calling it the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament. What courageous authority will, for the sake of the Virgin of Fatima and her Son, call to account those who perpetuate this sacrilege?

    • I agree with you. I’ve been to the feast a few times. I don’t like the enviroment around there. I like Summerfest the best.

    • Marry Anne id like you to read below hellens comment and hellen if you could to that would be great and id like to add one last thing to all of that and that is that if you or something has been blessed once how can you ever take the blessing away?

  2. okay so i can understand that you both didint like the feast but to say that the name should be changed is not right at all, you clearly do not understand the hours and the time and the prayer that goes into the four wonderfull days of the feast. And we can argue all day about ohh its loud and people get too drunk and theres no parking for blocks and 1000 of other things but not one of the bad things compair to the true beauty of the feast of the blessed sacrament. it begins weeks before the the feast when 100s of madirians show up to help prepair and you know they might have some fights and disagreements with each other but we they all have a true love for one enother truthfully if a club member dies everyone who has a chance to see them for the last time will see them i think thats wonderful. now the people of the feast are all volentears and its a completly non profituble social club. I mean they send 100s of people to college not to mention they bought a ton of books for the naighboring school as well as well as to new bedford in general. Not to mention the dedicatioon of some of the people who run the feast people are there year round just waiting for the fourdays to come. The club even gives money as well as decorates the church on earl s.t. and all the commidie memmbers walk in the pariade on sunday and go to mass at that church. And you think the blessed part of the feast should be taken away. name another feast in new bedford that dose all of this for the church. which is what this feast dose and has done sence the begning thats the reason why the feast was formed was soo madiran and portugese immergrants almost 100 years ago can feel a little closr to home and of course the feast isint as spirtual as it was 100 years ago but look at all of civilization as a whole neither are they. so to say it should only be called the portugese feast is a shame on your part because not only is it a Madrian feast and i know thats portugese but still saying it portugese feast isint right when its a feast run by madrians and if you cant tell the difference in a madrian from someone from portugal then you need to look at a globe portugal is a huge country that are doing okay for them selfs. as for madria it is a small island near affrica closer to affrica then portugal. and the fact that that small island made wine great enough to be tosted to when the decloration of indepence was sighned is really something else not only that but the feast is the largest potugese feast in the WORLD thats right even portugal dosnt have a feast like the feast that 4 madrians established almost 100 years ago. and lets face it if god didint aprove of the feast then it wouldnt be around any more and just so you know its come close to not being a feast because there wernt enough commitie members to have it but guess what god let that turn around and blessed the feast with anouther 75 years. Oh and id like to tell you a story of my vava febe who came from madria as a young girl who bought a house on tinkham street less then a block away from the feast of the blesssed sacrament and latter in the years met her true love there walking in the pariade and then had my grandfather and his brother who both became members of the feast and my grandfather died before i met him but he had a dear love for the feast and my uncle his brother traviels everyyear from florida just for this feast. my mom and dad got mariade under the grape vines at this feast and there still happly married. and they had 2 kid me and my brother who are both going to serve for this feast now im only 17 but the 17 years of my life i have spent all of my summers down there so you guys may see 4 days of the 100 days of the feast but i have seen all 100 for 17 years and for you to say it shouldnt be called blessed is gross because i know its blessed i know its more then just a portugese feast its something more then any one person and hold its more then one genertation of people who love the feast. it may have become americanized but its in america and the fact its in New Bedford should mmake you feel its blessed because well because lets face it who can say theyve gone to a the largest portugese feast in the world other then new englanders or people who travial. All and all there are some bad things that happen during the feast but there are also bad things that happen in life and to say our life isisnt blessed would be rediculous right? so why would it be exseptibal to say that the feast isint blessed or has nothing to do with the sacrament which isint what you said but is what you imply if you take that out of the name. Like i said you 4 of 100 days of the feast and maybe thoughs days are not exactly sinless days or fully worshuped days but the 96 other days are a whole different story. my name is Brett Aguiar im 17 and i understand that you didint have fun or grossly americanized with the culture but i would like to see what you have to say if you showed up before or even after the feast seriously ask for me ill walk with you all 100 days and show you how blessed it really is. Infact i feel more blessed there then i do at church i have run there crying my eyes to feel releaved when i hit the grounds of the feast i dont get that from church and another thing is the feast of the blessed sacrament has nothing to do with the way people dress girls and guys dress ourtrages in this error i know im living in it to but to blame something like that isint right not one bit becuase you raised us not the feast and in my situiation out of the 365 days in the year i spend 100 of them so ive spent roughly 1700 days of my life at this feast so ive kinda been raised by it i gues you can almost say and if i where to dress like some of the guys you see then im sure the people from the feast would be pissed at me and thats not a joke so again its not the feast falt people want to dress inupropritly and our blessed lord himself has clearly seen through of the ugly things about the feast to see the beauty which is something you have to do with everything because everything has ugly and everything has beauty and its not the ugly that counts. i consider the feast sacrad by all means because without it i would never of been born without 1000000s of imigrints would of never found refuge in hard times and without it there wouldnt be this discution. a discution that may not get through to you but may get through to others and in away thats because of the feast dose gods work in a way not to say god cant handle his job or to say that god is incapible but to say that god wants us happy and when i go to the feast any of the 100 days that it is i see a lot of smiles. oh and by the way i still live in the hhouse my vava bought how ever long ago it was and one last thing clearly madria sees it is a blessed feast because madria is a blessed island and the people of madira would deffenitly meet your dress code and they see that we are so special they send barrels of madria wine to only newbedford for the four days of the feast. we also bring somee of the upper people of madria to the feast everyyear and the pariade may have some things that are not to holly but it also has about 50 men who walk into achurch at the end of it and pray for everyone to be safe. Now im not saying im happy with all the things i see at the feaast but im also no happy with all the things i see happining in life but it dosnt mean ican rightfully say someone or something in my lifeis not blessed because i havnt seeen peoplke i dont like there whole lifes or the things i see may have been something beautifull at one point but is no longer i cant say its not blessed if i dont know the whole passed the whole present and the whole fuiter and i understand the enviroment dosnt suit you bnecuasse ive been hurasied at the feast ive goten yelled at and 1000s of other things have happend but behind all of it the cloths the girls are wearing and the drunk guys swearing and all that i still know that god is above watching a feast that was made for him and sure he may not like all of the things happening but i am sure that even god is happy that someone 100 years made something for him that will continue to grow untill god alone desides that its over with.i rambled i know but this upset to hear that you dont think the feast of the blessed sacrament shouldnt be called that name anymore and im sorry for the typos and miss spelling of 100s of words and my awfull grammer but truthfully there are worse things in this world then the feast and there are things more blesssed then the feast like ev ery house of god but to say the feast isint blessed is to saythat god dosnt bless his creations because the four fathers of the feast where inspired by god and by madiiera so i rest my case that the feast is not as holy as it was years ago but has never ever and will never ever be Not blessed and not for god. Thank you for the readers who agree and thank you to the readers that dont. But seriously any of you can find me around the naighbor hood of the feast and ill show that its not just a portugese feast and not just a madrain feast but its is the Feast Of the Blesssed Sacrament. Hope to see you all there.
    Aug2
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  3. i hope people can understand good as Brett A. can. it is everywhere if you look. you were raised right.

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