Annual Sao Paio festival set for 62nd year


David Silva of Naugatuck chops eels for the Sao Paio festival in Naugatuck last year. This year’s festival will take place this coming weekend. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — As the end of August draws nearer, borough residents turn their thoughts to soccer, Portuguese music, and eels.

The annual Sao Paio festival is set to take place next weekend. The feast, which is hosted by the Naugatuck Portuguese Club, has been a tradition in the borough for more than six decades.

“We’ve been celebrating it for 62 years,” explained Frances Branco of the Portuguese Club’s. “It was started by the Ladies Auxiliary in 1950.”

She explained that, as the years went by, the popularity of the feast grew, drawing thousands of people from Connecticut and neighboring states.

Over the years, certain events began to become synonymous with the festival.

This year will mark the 27th Annual Sao Paio Invitational Soccer Tournament and the 38th annual Sao Paio 5K Road Race. The race changed to a flatter course through the center of town last year.

The festival kicks off next Friday at 10 a.m. with borough resident Domingos Branco being named the Portuguese Mayor of the Day during a ceremony at Town Hall.

Next Saturday, in addition to the road race and soccer tournament, there will be a parade, a folklore dancing group, and live music.

The parade will start at 6 p.m. at the Naugatuck Historical Museum on Water Street, head down Cedar Street, Church Street, Rubber Avenue, and end up at the Portuguese Club on Rubber Avenue.

Next Sunday will feature a mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church, a Portuguese Dobrada lunch, a soccer game at Naugatuck High School, and more live music.

“It’s a great celebration of not only Portuguese-American culture but Naugatuck culture as well. It’s become such an important part of the end of summer. It represents a chance for people of all backgrounds to come together and celebrate the contributions of Portuguese-Americans in the borough,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

According to a press release, all three days will feature Portuguese and American food starting at noon at the Portuguese Club including barbequed sardines, pork, clams, shrimp, and the festival’s famous eels.

“It’s the place to have a good time over the Labor Day weekend,” Frances Branco said.

The Feast of Sao Paio was brought to the borough from the fishing village of Torreira, Portugal.

According to the legend, the feast started in remembrance of Saint Paio, who was beheaded during the Spanish Inquisition due to his unwavering loyalty to God. His body washed ashore in his village of Torreira.

Since then, the village has remembered him with a three day feast.

After being introduced in Naugatuck in 1950, this feast has become part of the borough’s tradition as well.

“A lot of people really like our feast. We look forward to having everyone come and have a good time. They meet up with people they haven’t seen in years,” Frances Branco said. “It’s a town-wide family event.”