Food, fun, and a parade at the Portuguese-American Club Feast

Grupo Folclorico do Clube Madeirense S.S. Sacramento of New Bedford is always a hit in the parade. — Photo by Angelina Godbout

After an hour waiting for a drenching rain shower to pass, the Portuguese-American (P-A) Club Feast of the Holy Ghost parade got underway Sunday with all of the color and tradition that makes this one of the highlights of the year for many Islanders.

Grupo Folclorico do Clube Madeirense S.S. Sacramento of New Bedford, a traditional dance group in colorful period costumes marched beside P-A Club board members and local elected officials.

On the way, the parade paused at Our Lady Star of the Sea to crown Emma Williamson, part of the tradition to honor Queen Isabella of Portugal, who sold her crown jewels to feed the poor. Each year, the P-A club crowns a young girl from Our Lady Star of the Sea’s first communion class.

On Saturday, the heat didn’t stop the fun at the P-A club, where the annual Feast of the Holy Ghost got underway. Kids jumped on bouncy slides, got their faces painted and played games; everyone ate sopa, sweetbreads and fried dough while D.J. Prime supplied the soundtrack.

The Feast of the Holy Ghost dates back to Queen Isabella of Aragon, who lived from 1271 to 1336 and was known for her generosity. During a famine, the Queen offered her crown to the Holy Spirit in return for a miracle. As she left the church, the story goes, the Queen saw that the harbor had filled with ships carrying food.

Most agree that the traditional festival that grew out of that story took hold on Martha’s Vineyard in about 1882, when Manuel S. deBettencourt moved the Island from Graciosa, one of the Azores, and brought a silver crown with him. The Oak Bluffs P-A club has been hosting the event, with its feast, and parade, since the 1920s.

Each year, it’s obvious that the Feast of the Holy Ghost isn’t just about celebrating the generosity of a long-ago queen, but preserving the bonds that hold a community and a culture together – kindness and goodwill, along with dozens of volunteers, lots of shared laughs, and great food. And did we mention the fun? Times editor Eleni Roriz reports the lively crowd “danced outside to the music of DJ Ricky Prime, munched on everything from oysters to grill-your-own kabobs to fried dough.”