Brunswick is a town steeped in history and tradition. And the Blessing of the Fleet dates back to the early days of the city.
Originally started by Portuguese fishermen and their families, the event has long added color to the area. The Catholic community would hold the event as a way to ask God’s favor for a bountiful harvest.
Susan Molnar, community festivals and special projects volunteer, said the event was first started more than 80 years ago by these immigrants.
“The Brunswick Portuguese community was mostly Catholic, and today the blessing is still tied to St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, whose members assist the committee of community volunteers who organize the festival,” she said.
“The event was traditionally held on Mother’s Day as a way of honoring Our Lady of Fatima (the patron saint of Portugal). In recent years, the event has been changed to occur on Mother’s Day weekend, but not on Mother’s Day itself, in order to allow the public, vendors and volunteers to spend the holiday with their families.”
That tradition will continue this year when the event returns. Titled MayFair, featuring the 81st Annual Brunswick Blessing of the Fleet, will be held from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. May 11 at Mary Ross Waterfront Park in downtown Brunswick. The blessing itself will begin at 2 p.m., but the program will include a number of activities from music to demonstrations to a pooch parade.
Molnar says that each year the organizational committee looks to offer something new to bring to the time honored tradition. The name change, she notes, is a part of that.
“It also encompasses the idea of a festive atmosphere with a great variety of activities,” she said.
“The blessing ceremony is the focus, of course, but the festival has grown over the past few years to include additional activities that appeal to a wider range of interests.”
That truly includes something for everyone. Various musicians — from saxophonist Michael Hulett to the rock and rollers Tie Dyed Sunset — will set the tone with their tunes.
The Brunswick Police and Fire Departments will square off in a “field day” competition. There will be tai chi and cooking demonstrations as well as a crafters and food vendors. And of course, there will be the ever popular pet parade which will take place at 1 p.m. and will feature categories like “ best pet/pet-parent look a-likes” and the “saltwater costume contest.”
“The education area will feature local marine life, a master bubble maker, juggler and balloon twister will roam the festival throughout the day,” Molnar added.
Like this year’s lineup, the venue change last year was another attempt at offering something new to the tradition. In recent years, the blessing was held under the bridge at Sidney Lanier Park, but Molnar says the organizational committee wanted to connect the event more directly with downtown merchants.
“This came at the suggestion of many members of the public and downtown merchants, who felt that it would give the festival more of a community feel,” she said.
There will be another addition this year, according to Harvest Hale-Johns, program manager for the Brunswick Downtown Development Authority. That is tiny paper boats hidden around the downtown area for children and residents to find. They serve both as a promotion for the festival as well as a sweet souvenir from the historic port city.
“These are biodegradable paper boats that have live wildflower seeds in them. The idea is whether they are found and taken home or degrade into the soil, they’ll inevitably become wildflowers,” Hale-Johns said. “A few volunteers have been helping us to fold boats and hide them, much like the Brunswick Rocks, but with a more local twist.”
All of the elements together will offer a fun-filled and relaxing afternoon for attendees, as well as a nod to one of the city’s longest traditions.
“With such a lengthy existence, this tradition is an integral part of Brunswick history and pays homage to the shrimping, fishing, and marine industries that help build Brunswick,” Molnar said.