Monday, September 16, 2019
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In July every 4 years one of the biggest and most spectacular festivals in Portugal takes place in Tomar.

The “Festa dos Tabuleiros” Festival of the Trays, is staged once every four years. The festival is a spectacle of colour, music and parades. The most elaborate and colourful will be on Sunday July 10th.  This is when 700 women parade through the medieval streets of Tomar. Each of them carries a basket on their heads decorated with paper flowers and bread.  The basket or ‘tray’ is the same height as the woman. Carrying it through the streets on a hot July day is no mean feat.  All the streets are decorated in paper flowers and it takes months for local people to prepare them.  The festival is unique not just in Portugal but in the world.

As well as being an incredible spectacle and a great party, the event highlights Portuguese society at its very best. tomar tabuleiros

Months ahead of the Festa every part of the Tomar community gets involved in preparing for the event.  As well as all of the local parishes in Tomar district, virtually every family gets involved.  In the months up to July Hey Portugal will be running regular articles about the build up to the Festival.

In this first article we look at the history behind the Festival. 

According to some historians the Festival of the Trays comes down from the days of the Roman Empire.  The Romans who lived in this area called it Sellium. During this period an offering of harvest food was made to the Goddess Ceres. When Tomar became Christianised the pagan tradition of Ceres was overlaid with the Christians own interpretation. No one knows for sure what happened during the centuries of Islamic rule of Portugal.  But during the reign of King Dinis and Queen Isabel around 1260 the celebration of the Holy Spirit was introduced.  This festival celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit and the equality of man before God.  The goodness of the rich supporting the poor is still a feature of the festival.  On the end day a flower- garlanded ox cart carries wine, bread and meat to be distributed to the poor.

In the hundreds of years from 1260 onwards there is no certainty about how frequent the Festa was.  But a local Tomar newspaper mentioned it in 1879 and it was reported in the newspapers throughout the 20th century.  In 1940 the famous Portuguese historian, João Simões , was asked to research the different elements of the festival. He discovered hundreds of local people who had been involved in previous festivals.  He used their knowledge to piece together the traditions that underpin the Modern Festival; traditions that make the festival both authentic and unique.  

For Part 2 of this series click here.

For more information on Festa dos Tabuleiros.

For an article about Fernado Fereirra who was instrumental in bringing the Tabuleiros Festa to Tomar, (coming soon)

Article researched by Sylvia Anginotti and written by Peter Moore