Festas de Sao Paio celebrates 60th year

[local /wp-content/uploads/2010/09/mayor-of-the-day1.flv]

Video compiled by Dan DeBlasio, CN staff writer

NAUGATUCK — Thousands of people turned out for the Naugatuck Portuguese Club’s 60th annual Festas de Sao Paio celebration Saturday, but no one received as much attention as Maria Fidalgo, who was honored as Mayor for the Day.

“The town has been running much more efficiently,” Mayor Robert A. Mezzo joked. He was joined by other politicians who said she’s a shining example of Portuguese immigrants’ contributions to the town. Naugatuck has one of the densest Portuguese populations of any part of the state.

Fidalgo moved from Portugal to Naugatuck in 1955 and spent countless hours helping the town, in addition to raising a family and working. She taught children to read and volunteered with Naugatuck Red Cross, the Naugatuck Housing Authority, the Portuguese-American Political Action Committee, mayor’s cultural council and the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce.

The Portuguese club’s three-day festival honoring Saint Paio is now in its 60th year.

It featured the usual array of food including eel, which is shipped from Canada to Naugatuck especially for the event. There were other delicacies including kale soup and Portuguese pastries.

The festival, which now attracts about 10,000 people a year, began in 1950 as a smaller-scale, one-day feast organized by the club’s ladies’ auxiliary. Since then, it has grown to attract people from all over the state, including Danbury and Bridgeport, which also have large Portuguese populations.

Saint Paio is the patron saint of Torreira, a fishing city on the Atlantic Coast of Portugal. According to legend, the body of Saint Paio, a martyr, landed in Torreira.

Portugal honors him every year on Sept. 7 and 8 — regardless of which days of the week the days fall.

However, the Naugatuck Portuguese Club has adopted the tradition of celebrating on the first weekend of September to take advantage of the Labor Day holiday.

Musicians and dancers make their way down Rubber Avenue in Naugatuck on Saturday during the Sao Paio Parade on their way to the Naugatuck Portuguese Club for the 60th annual Sao Paio Festival.

The Festas de Sao Paio celebration kicked off Friday morning and on Saturday featured a 5K road race, soccer tournament and parade. Many people were dressed in traditional Portuguese attire and awards were given for best costume.

Attendees said they were thankful that Hurricane Earl, which threatened to dump torrential rain and bring 70 mph winds on the state on Friday, completely avoided  inland Connecticut.

On Saturday evening, there was a folklore dancing exhibition featuring groups from Waterbury and Bridgeport and one from Palm Coast, Fla. Afterward, the celebration morphed into a dance party with music provided by Banda Navegantes of Connecticut.

The soccer tournament continues today at 8 a.m. and is followed by Mass at 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Waterbury. There’s lunch at the club at noon and music and dancing at night.