Ventura has had some strange holidays over the years

by Richard Senate

HUTASH . Perhaps the first holiday was celebrated by the Chumash people, perhaps well over a thousand years ago. The Chumash had a very accurate calendar, and this harvest festival was celebrated on the 29th of September. It was the most important holiday of the Native Chumash people. It was a time of feasting and special dances with each of the brotherhood performing important religious dances. They would decorate and set up special feather poles, decorated with multicolored birds’ feathers. Between the two a line flew elaborate feather banger flow to the music and chanting. It was a time of games and song. The Spanish who came saw all of the Natives celebrating and, looking at their calendar’s and they saw that September 29th happens to fall on San Miguel Day, September 29th. So, the Spanish held their own events on that day too.

SAN MIGUEL DAY, Celebrates St. Michael the archangel who defeated Satan. This holiday had processions that went from the old Mission church to the chapel of San Miguel that once stood on the corner of Palm and Thompson streets, in Ventura. It started with a high Mass and went into that sport beloved by European and Chumash alike—horse racing (Many of the best jockeys were Chumash). They would line up along what is today Thompson and race in a straight away race. The betting was fast and furious and legends say whole ranchos could change ownership on the outcome of one race. It was also a time of feasting and, after sundown, large fandango was held. Later they added bullfighting to the day’s afternoon activities. They would fence off Main Street and the matadors would face the bull as locals watched. These were not true bullfights for, because bulls were expensive, they were never killed. The Yankees came and saw all the Latino people having fun and they set the start of the County Fair at September 29—that was done was for many years.

JUDAS DAY Good Friday, evening. This is perhaps the strangest holiday celebrated at the old Missions. On Holy Week, a wicker statue of Judas Iscariot was hung on a gibbet in front of the church and members of the congregation were encouraged to beat the image with a stick. The statue was stuffed full of fireworks. That night it would be set on fire and when the flames hit the fireworks it would go out in an explosion of rockets and bombs. This started Judas night when the spirit of Judas was released from Hell to walk the land and cause people to do sinful things like drink, party, and have a good time. It was not your fault—Judas made me do it. People played tricks and did pranks, a bit like our April Fools Day. One of the things people did was steal things—embarrassing things like underwear and such. When morning came Judas was returned to the underworld. The the revelers, now sober, would place all the items they took on the steps of the Old Mission where a crowd gathered to watch people collect their things to many rude comments and laughter. It was a bit of fun in the middle of Holy Week.

Maybe one of these holidays should be brought back and enjoyed today, well, maybe not Judas Day.

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