The Origins of The Tomar Tray Festival

The town of Tomar is one of the cities that can be found in the Sanatarém district of Portugal. Tomar holds an important place in the history of Portugal, especially during the middle ages where it was the center of Portugal’s efforts for expansion overseas under the leadership of Henry the Navigator. Another reason for its historical value lies in the fact that the city was constructed inside the walls of the existing Convento de Cristo by the orders of the Knights Templar in the 12th century.

Aside from the appeal of culture and history in Tomar, its unique festivals are also sure to draw in crowds of tourists. One interesting summer celebration that takes place in the city is the Tomar Tray Festival held from late June to early July.

How did the Tomar Tray Festival begin?

In Portuguese, the festival is known as the Festa dos Tabuleiros where girls and women all over the city prepare ‘coroas’ or crowns made of loaves of bread and paper flowers. Participants of the festival support the weight of the flowers and the bread on trays that they carry on their heads. Because of the element of the bread and the flowers, some historians connect the origins of the festival as a veneration to the Roman goddess of fertility and the flowering plants, Ceres.

How did the Tomar Tray Festival begin?
How did the Tomar Tray Festival begin?

However, the more accepted version of the Tray Festival’s origins is connected to King Dinis, a Portuguese king who reigned in the 13th and 14th century. He was renowned for acquiring the prestigious Military Order of Christ from Pope John XXII who created the honor for the king’s services to the World and Portugal. King Dinis’ wife was Saint Isabel de Aragão who created the Congregation of the Holy Spirit from which sprang forth the movement of Christian solidarity. These two rulers began the festival as a way to honor the Holy Spirit.

What Are The Activities During The Tomar Tray Festival?

Preparing for the festival takes weeks, or even months of preparation, that is why the Tray Festival only happens in a cycle of four years. Many of the festivities practiced since the people of Tomar still maintain its inception.

What Are The Activities During The Tomar Tray Festival?
What Are The Activities During The Tomar Tray Festival?

The main event, of course, is the preparation of the ‘coroas’ which is traditional should be as tall as the woman or girl that carries it. Each crown is made up of around 30 pieces of bread weighing about 400 grams each – which means that each woman carries an approximate 12 kilograms on their head, including the trays and the paper flowers. To commemorate the Holy Spirit, every girl and woman participating in the carrying of the trays wear white dresses to symbolize purity. Their crowns are also topped with a dove or a cross. The creations and the women participate in a citywide Procession. Other important activities during the festival include the blessing of the loaves and smaller processions with their own symbolic meaning such as the one for young boys called the Cortejo dos Rapazes, and another that involves horse-drawn carriages and ox-drawn carts in the Cortejo do Mordomo. 

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