Below, the beautiful Half Moon Bay Chamarita Queen, Elizabeth Rocha, holding the crown emerges from the service at the Catholic Church, behind her two pretty “side” queens, Christina and Melissa; a member of the Half Moon Bay High School band takes a break, and three cute “little” queens take your heart away. Big enthusiastic crowd this year–lots of applause for the HMB High School band–they were terrific.
Throughout the decades the Chamarita has grown to include Festival Queens from Tracy, Newark and Santa Clara participating in the celebration at Half Moon Bay. But the Chamartia remains a small town festival sporting a carnival atmosphere with a Ferris Wheel and carousel.
Originally, Pescadero and Half Moon Bay jointly celebrated the Chamarita, but in 1900, apparently after a series of squabbles, ties between the sister-communities were severed. Since then–with only one interruption during WWII when soldiers occupied the I.D.E.S. building on Main Street, Pescadero has sponsored its own Chamarita.
Although the Chamarita has been celebrated on the Coastside for more than 100 years, many people remain unaware of the colorful pageant.
In the late 1890s the Brotherhood of the I.D.E.S. Society (The Society of Divine Holy Spirit) was organized and the first order of business was to raise funds for a new Crown to be owned by the Portuguese religious organization so that future Chamaritas would be assured of their precious symbol.
I.D.E.S founder Manuel Phillips Dutra became instrumental in the fundraising effort as he traveled in a horse drawn carriage throughout San Mateo County, collecting donations amounting to 400 silver dollars. The coins were melted down and molded into the society’s first crown–24-inches tall and weighing a hefty 30 pounds. This irreplaceable silver Crown has been used until the present day.
Dutra, who passed away in 1923, also donated land on Main Street in Half Moon Bay for construction of the I.D.E.S. building where future festivals would be held.
A band from Redwood City joined the festivities, playing marches. Along the route multi-colored Roman candles burned and there was the constant rat-a-tat-tat of small firecrackers.
Almost everybody in town attended the Catholic service, standing room only in the church. After the blessing of the Crown, services concluded, with the happy crowd bursting through the doors into the fresh Coastside air. The celebration continued just like in days of old. Tables, hundreds of feet in length, were loaded down with specially prepared “Chamarita” beef, baskets of bread and pitchers of wine.
Later all ages danced the Chamarita to the accompaniment of a guitarist. The Redwood City Band provided contemporary music until midnight. Everybody came to have a good time and they were not disappointed.
In the early days men led the procession as Mrs. Brown’s Crown was carried to the church and blessed by the priest. Afterward the festivities continued at Mrs. Brown’s home where the revered Crown was on display. In the afternoon a free delicious barbecue was enjoyed by all–followed by the Chamarita dance.
But two decades later, in 1893, the once simple affair had mushroomed into an event comparable to a Fourth of July celebration. Wearing a tiara, Miss Mary Freitas, that year’s festival queen, carried the Crown to the church. She headed up a torchlight procession, now 300 strong, marching from Mrs. Brown’s resident, just outside Half Moon Bay to the old Catholic Church in the center of town.
Miss Freitas represented Queen Isabel, and at her side stood several maids of honor, or “side queens,” all attired in wedding dress white and capes, carrying fragrant flower bouquets. As a Portuguese band played the home country’s “National Anthem,” the queen and her attendants walked the mile-long rfoute inside of four fabric-covered “rods” held by the younger girls.
To the Portuguese the Crown symbolized a sign of the Holy Ghost, an object of much veneration, and the people of the Azores vowed that they and their children would forever commemorate the day of the miracle: Pentecost Sunday.
No matter in what part of the world they made their home, there would always be an annual thanksgiving celebration honoring Queen Isabel for the sacrifice she made when offering her crown to the Holy Ghost. (Queen Isabel was canonized by Pope Urban VIII two centuries after her death in 1625).
A crown became the centerpiece of the Coastside celebration, beginning in Half Moon Bay in 1871. At first it was a very simple, dignified affair held at the home of Mrs. Rose Brown, the second Portuguese woman to arrive in Half Moon Bay in the mid-1800s. More significantly, she had brought with her from the Azores a delicately handmade gold colored replica of the original Crown. This precious symbol was handed down from one generation to the next.
(Photo, 1928 “Holy Ghost Festival” outside the old Catholic Church in Half Moon Bay)
“Tradition cannot be purchased
Like a set of dishes,
Or a kitchen appliance.
Heritage must be preserved;
Often it must be rescued.
Or it must be created.”
–Mrs. Carolyn Cunha Granelli, 1921 Half Moon Bay “Chamarita” Festival Queen
The Chamarita’s warm atmosphere marked by spirited dancing, a colorful parade, sumptuous barbecue feast and auction have always been open to all comers.
But its heritage was born in tragedy.
The Holy Ghost Festival traces its origins to the 13th and 14th centuries when a violent earthquake and volcanic eruption shook the Azore Islands, located 1000 miles away from the Lisbon home of Portugal’s Queen Isabel. But nature was not finished with the small islands. Following the natural disasters there was drought, crop failure and finally a cruel famine that broke the people’s faith. In their desperation and suffering, they gathered together to pray to the Holy Ghost for help.
Their prayers were answered, and what followed was a miracle. A ship arrived at Port of Fayal on Pentecost Sunday, laden with food that fed the famished and restored the people’s faith.
When the good news reached Queen Isabel, she organized a solemn procession in honor of the Holy Ghost. Accompanied by her maids, the Queen carried her Crown through the streets of Lisbon to the Cathedral, placing it on the altar as an offering of thanksgiving for the favors the Holy Ghost had bestowed upon her people.