Memories of the Feast of the Holy Ghost

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Alice Coutinho— Linsey Lee

Oak Bluffs will celebrate the annual Portuguese Feast of the Holy Ghost this weekend with a parade and a community dinner. The event, held by the Holy Ghost Club of Martha’s Vineyard since the 1920s, was initiated to connect Azorean immigrants to their homeland. Saturday’s feast centers around traditional Portuguese foods like sopa, while the parade on Sunday includes traditional Azorean dress and music in celebration of the Holy Ghost crown and flag. In celebration of the beloved tradition, here are some memories from Islanders as told to Linsey Lee, oral history curator at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, courtesy of the museum.

Alice Coutinho

1914–2007, Oak Bluffs

Homemaker, bookkeeper, piano teacher

I remember we used to go see chamaritas at the P.A. Club, the Portuguese-American Club. The chamarita is sort of like a square dance. They wear costumes; the girls had the blouses and velvet skirts and handkerchiefs. When you dance you stamp your foot in the middle. No matter what you do, that’s the step your feet are doing. And then they do-si-do.

The chamarita was done at feast time. The feast was started in Portugal. They did it to feed the hungry. And it was all free. They gave out beef, which they roasted on an open fire, and they made a lot of soup with cabbage and potatoes and and linguica and mint. The mint is the secret. If you don’t put mint in it, forget it. This is the Holy Ghost soup. It’s Spirito Santo soup. At feast time, they really made it a wonderful time. A band would come from New Bedford. There were many, many flowers decorating everything. They danced and sang a lot. We don’t do enough of it here anymore. The chamarita is a wonderful, wonderful Portuguese dance that should not be forgotten.

Tony King

1925–2003, Vineyard Haven

Musician, bartender, restaurant manager

We would always play [music] during the festivals, too. March with the crown, the Portuguese crown. One family would keep it at their house for, say, two weeks, and people would go there and pray every night of the week, kneel in the living room, kitchen, wherever they found the room to kneel down in. From one end of the house all the way to the other end of the house where the crown would be — and usually it’s the living room — people kneeling all over the place and praying and singing, you know, in Portuguese. They’d pray out loud.

At night, we played music in the biggest room they had, and people would dance the chamarita.

And then, on a Sunday, the crown would be moved to another family’s house.They’d bring the crown out the front door and we played the song that goes with the crown. They’d carry the crown out and they’d stand there by the fence, and we’d play the song. Then they’d get in parade form — there would probably be about maybe 30, 35 people, 40 at most — and we’d march to the other house and drop the crown off there.

There were a lot of people on the side of the street watching, and a lot of the young boys and girls would follow the parade alongside.

I know some people that the crown meant so much to them that when they lost it after two weeks they cried. Not just the women. The men would cry, too.

Feast of the Holy Ghost: Saturday, July 16, 5 pm, Portuguese-American Club, Oak Bluffs.

Holy Ghost Parade: Sunday, July 17, 11:30 am, Steamship Authority, Oak Bluffs.

For more information, visit holyghostassociation.com.