NEWARK -- A cherished yearly festival featuring Portuguese food, folklore and traditional ceremonies returns this week to Newark Pavilion.

The 91st annual Newark Holy Ghost Festa begins at 6 p.m. Thursday with the traditional "Blessing of the Meat and Offerings."

The four-day event is made possible by the Portuguese Fraternal Society of America, Newark Holy Ghost -- a cultural organization that plans the festival's calendar and holds fundraisers to pay for it. The nearly century-old event teems with tradition, featuring ceremonies aligned with the Catholic Church. Each day's festivities will take place on the pavilion grounds at 6430 Thornton Ave.

"For me, this festival means going back to my heritage and reliving the steps that my parents and grandparents would take to celebrate the Holy Ghost Festa," said Lilia Couto, a Newark resident and one of the organizers.

On Friday, a traditional Portuguese soup will be given out at 7 a.m., and the "Praying of the Rosary" service will begin at 7 p.m. The festival continues Saturday with a Catholic Mass at 11 a.m. It then kicks into high gear with a brief parade offering food; cheese, sweet bread and milk will be served. Later, local groups are scheduled to perform traditional Portuguese music and dance.

The festival's origins can be traced back to Queen St. Isabel, 16th-century Portuguese royalty. Isabel, according to legend, gave generously to the poor, to the chagrin of her family. Event organizers recognize her each year by selecting a Tri-City-area girl to serve as the honorary Queen St. Isabel. This year's "Isabel" is Jordan DaRosa.

A number of local girls are selected to serve other honorary positions, such as Senior Queen, Junior Queen and Little Queen; about six others given the title of Sidemaids. The presentation of Queen St. Isabel and the other queens is slated to begin at 9 p.m. Saturday.

On Sunday, a parade beginning at 10:45 a.m. will travel a half-mile, from the pavilion to St. Edward Catholic Church. After a Catholic Mass there, another parade will follow, from the church back to the pavilion.

The festival concludes there with a dance performance at 5 p.m.

Holy Ghost Festa co-organizers, such as Paula Silva, say a lot of work goes into the yearly event, but sharing its traditions with Tri-City-area neighbors makes it all worthwhile.

"I enjoy seeing the community come out, and you don't have to be Portuguese to be involved, which is great," Silva said. "I also love that my children get to experience the Portuguese culture that my grandfather brought to the United States. It's important to pass it on to the children so that it doesn't die."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

If you go
WHAT: Newark Holy Ghost Festa
WHEN: Thursday-Sunday
WHERE: Newark Pavilion, 6430 Thornton Ave.
INFO: 510-793-4062