The Festival of the Trays happens in Tomar, Portugal. It is a parade of girls wearing tabuleiros on their heads as shown in the pictures below.
There are horses and buggies too.
It is held every four years, the last one was 2019, the next is 2023. It originated from a cult hundreds of years ago.
The girls wear long white dresses with bright red or yellow sash. The boys wear a formal costume.
You can the details of the paper flowers and bread on the tray.
- Frequency: Festa dos Tabuleiros takes place every four years in July.
- Symbolism: The festival celebrates the Holy Spirit and the community’s gratitude for the year’s bountiful harvest. It also emphasizes the importance of bread, an essential staple in the Portuguese diet.
- Trays: The festival’s main attraction is the procession of women carrying large, ornately decorated trays, or “tabuleiros,” on their heads. These trays are adorned with flowers, loaves of bread, and other symbolic elements. The trays can be as tall as the women carrying them and may weigh up to 30 pounds.
- Decorations: The town of Tomar is decorated with colorful paper flowers, ribbons, and banners, creating a festive atmosphere. The streets are often lined with intricate patterns made from flower petals and colored sawdust.
- Activities: In addition to the procession, the festival features various activities, including religious ceremonies, traditional music and dance performances, and other cultural events. You can also enjoy local cuisine and learn about Tomar’s history and culture.
Women carrying heavy flower decorated trays for the traditional Trays Festival around the historic town of Tomar, Portugal, Europe.
I still vividly recall the vibrant energy that pulsed through the streets of Tomar during the Festival of the Trays, a spectacle that drew me into the heart of Portuguese culture. It was a warm summer day when I arrived in the quaint town, the sun casting a golden hue over the ancient cobblestones and whitewashed buildings adorned with colorful trim.
The streets were lined with flowers and intricate decorations, and the air was filled with the scent of local delicacies and the sound of traditional Portuguese music.
As I meandered through the town, I was captivated by the size and scale of the event. The central procession was the highlight, featuring women in white dresses and men in sashes, each pair representing their parish. The women balanced large trays on their heads, which I learned were called ‘tabuleiros.’ These trays were as tall as the women themselves, around 5 feet high, and were lavishly decorated with bread, flowers, and stalks of wheat, all topped with a towering crown that seemed to brush the balconies above.
The precision and grace with which the women carried the tabuleiros were astounding. I marveled at the strength and poise required to balance such imposing structures while navigating the throngs of spectators and the undulating terrain of the town.
I was swept up in the camaraderie as locals and visitors alike shared in the festivities, with traditional music groups performing ‘ranchos folclóricos’ at every corner, their guitars and accordions creating a festive soundtrack to the day’s events. The town square was transformed into a bustling marketplace, where I sampled ‘queijadas’—delicious cheese pastries—and sipped on chilled ‘ginjinha,’ a sweet cherry liqueur that became my instant favorite.
As the day turned to evening, the festivities culminated in a dazzling display of fireworks that illuminated the Castle of Tomar, a UNESCO World Heritage site that stood proudly on the hill overlooking the town. The bursts of color reflected in my eyes and the collective gasps and cheers of the crowd around me made for an unforgettable end to an extraordinary day.
The trays used in the Festa dos Tabuleiros are traditionally made of wood and are decorated with stacks of bread rolls, colorful paper flowers, and other embellishments. They are designed to be the same height as the woman carrying them, which can result in trays as tall as 6 feet (1.8 meters). The women wear traditional white dresses and red sashes during the procession, adding to the visual impact of the event.
The paper flowers are handmade. They are in all colors, with many white, red, purple, yellow, and green.
The trays’ decorations have both religious and secular symbolism, with the bread representing the Holy Spirit and the flowers symbolizing fertility and harvest. The festival itself has roots in ancient pagan fertility rituals, which later incorporated Christian elements.
During the Festa dos Tabuleiros, the town of Tomar comes alive with color, music, and dancing. The event features various cultural activities, such as traditional Portuguese folk music and dance performances, religious ceremonies, and the sampling of local food and drink.
Tomar is a small city located in the Central Region of Portugal.
The women have to balance the headdress using head, and hands.
Q: What is the significance of the trays? A: The trays, which can weigh up to 15 kg, are meant to represent the Holy Spirit’s crown. Turns out, the Holy Spirit is heavy!
Q: What happens during the festival? A: The festival involves a grand parade, religious ceremonies, music, dancing, and of course, those remarkable trays. It’s a party you won’t want to miss, unless you have a peculiar fear of bread or trays.
Q: Can anyone join the parade? A: The parade primarily involves locals, but spectators are welcome. Just don’t try to join in at the last minute — carrying those trays requires practice, and you don’t want to be the one to start a tray domino effect!
Q: What’s the history of the Festa dos Tabuleiros? A: The festival dates back hundreds of years and is believed to have pagan origins, later blending with Christian traditions. If only those trays could talk, the stories they’d tell…
Q: What else can I do in Tomar during the festival? A: Explore the town’s historical sites, like the Convent of Christ, enjoy local cuisine, and immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere. Just be careful where you walk — remember, trays will be overhead!
Q: How long does Festa dos Tabuleiros last? A: The festival lasts about a week. That’s a whole week of appreciating bread, wine, and the strength of local women’s neck muscles.
Q: Is there an entrance fee for the festival? A: No, there’s no entrance fee to join the festivities and watch the parade. It’s like a free ticket to a unique, unforgettable cultural spectacle. Though, donations to help the event continue its tradition are always appreciated.
Q: Is the festival kid-friendly? A: Absolutely! Just make sure the little ones aren’t standing too close to the tray carriers. Those trays are heavy, and it’s not like catching falling confetti.
Q: Can I volunteer at the festival? A: Yes, local volunteers are often needed and welcomed. Just make sure you have your tray-carrying technique down before you sign up!
Q: What should I wear to the festival? A: There’s no specific dress code for spectators, but comfortable clothing and sun protection are recommended. Wearing a tray on your head, however, is not advised unless you’re part of the parade.
Q: What’s the food like? A: Delicious! It’s a great chance to try local Portuguese cuisine. Don’t forget to sample the ‘pão e vinho’ (bread and wine) – they’re not just for the trays!
Q: Are there other attractions in Tomar? A: Indeed! Aside from the festival, you can visit the Castle of Tomar, the Pegões Aqueduct, or the beautiful Mouchão Park. Because when you’re not looking up at trays, you should be looking around at everything else Tomar has to offer.
It looks like fun.
Tomar is a town with 20k people.
The tabuleiro has 30 stacked pieces of bread, 6 rows of 5 or 5 rows of 6, decorated with tons of gorgeous flowers.
Tomar – how to get there and see for yourself
- Fly to Lisbon: The nearest major international airport to Tomar is Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport (LIS). You can find flights to Lisbon from many cities across Europe, North America, and other continents.
- Train or Bus from Lisbon: From Lisbon, you have two primary options to reach Tomar:a. Train: Take a train from Lisbon’s Santa Apolónia or Oriente stations to Tomar. The journey takes approximately 2 hours, depending on the type of train (Intercidades or Regional). Trains run regularly throughout the day.b. Bus: Alternatively, you can take a bus from Lisbon’s Sete Rios bus station to Tomar. The trip usually takes around 2 hours.