Holy Ghost Festival provides a taste of Portuguese heritage

Event raises money for scholarships and to help those in need.


There is no possible way you could have returned home hungry from the Holy Ghost Society’s feast on Saturday, July 21. First and foremost, there was the traditional Portuguese sopas, a mouthwatering soup that folks were downing with pleasure.

Every family has its own recipe, but for this feast the sopas, made by chefs Dylan Estrella and Brian Patrick Pall in enormous “coffins” (huge rectangular metal vats), consisted of steak, beef bouillon, Portuguese allspice, garlic, and peppers well simmered until the beef was done, and cut into cubes. Next, they added, one by one with about 1 hour to 1½ hours in-between, potatoes, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, linguiça, and chouriço sausages. Finally, it was all left to cool for an hour before serving with a side of mint and large soft bread “croutons.” For a crowd this large, the cooking process started at 8:30 am, ended at 5 pm, and then started all over again at 3 am for Sunday afternoon’s celebration — quite a marathon 48 hours for Estrella, Pall, and their assistants.

There were also traditional malasadas, large pieces of fried bread. The festival’s menu also included pao doce — tall round baked loaves of airy Portuguese sweet bread — sandwiches with linguiça or pulled pork marinated in Portuguese allspice, beef shish kebab, and for those who wanted more American fare, you could get the standard hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, chicken, french fries and, of course, drinks to accompany your meal.

Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish played live starting at 8 pm, with the dancing continuing for a good three hours.

A major event of the festival is the auction to raise funds that the society, which has a benevolent mission, uses to support the Portuguese-American community. This year it awarded over $38,000 in college scholarships to high school students, and also helped those with emergencies or who were ill and needed help with their medical expenses.

This was Mike Delis’ 11th year as auctioneer for the enormous amount and array of items and gift certificates generously donated by the Island’s merchants. Delis says he is on the board of directors, and so when the previous auctioneer retired, he was “volunteered.”

“I’m a clown and I like goofing around, so they picked me,” he said. Delis makes sure the items sell and that everyone has a great time: “I try to work up the crowd to get their money, because we give most of it away.”

The goods were stacked up in the small Crown House that also included an altar and crown in honor of Queen Isabella, where people could come to light a candle for those who have died. This is the remaining religious aspect of the annual celebration. Its origins, according to the Holy Spirit School and Church Festival website, began when Portugal was in the grips of a famine in the 13th century and Queen Isabella “prayed to the Holy Spirit that Portugal would be spared.” Soon after, ships arrived in the port of Lisbon, and their cargos relieved the country from certain disaster. Isabel then summoned the citizenry of the country, both rich and poor, and they gathered in the royal chapel to celebrate Mass. As an act of humility, she had the bishop place the royal scepter in one of the peasant’s hands and the royal crown on the peasant’s head. At the end of Mass, all were served a meal of bread, gravy, and meat called “Sopas de Carne.” Pope Urban VIII canonized Saint Queen Isabella on May 25, 1625, and the celebrations included a Holy Spirit festival; thus, a tradition was born.

Many on Saturday evening shared that their families had come for generations, and recalled fond memories of helping with the festival as kids. Their grandparents and great-grandparents migrated from the Azorean archipelago to Martha’s Vineyard in the late 1800s, although the current Holy Ghost Society wasn’t established until 1929.

Unfortunately, because of bad weather, Sunday morning’s parade with its decorated float and stop at the local cemetery to lay wreaths on the graves of the departed, was called off, as well as the Portuguese folk dancers who were to come from off-Island. But plenty of people came for more food — including sopas served for free, to carry on the tradition of Queen Isabella feeding her people. And there was the traditional blessing of the crown, recalling the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Queen Saint Isabella in the 13th century, so everyone left happy and fulfilled and, in fact, still talking about it the next day.

Trisha Bergeron, who was president and had run the festival for years, but was delegating much of it this year, explained how heavily the entire celebration and everything the Holy Ghost Society does relies on volunteers, whom she praised for their efforts. She added, however, that there are fewer now than in the past, and wants “people to contact the association if they want to join, because we do things for our community. We raise money, give it away, take care of everybody. We’re like the vessel that allows the community to raise money to help people.”

You can reach the Holy Ghost Society at holyghostassociation.com/