Have Faith: Traditions

Missing the old ways. Do you?


I always love it when I hear from readers. Always, even when they point out mistakes. Because they should point them out, and because it means they’re reading, which is every writer’s dream. After I wrote that short column about Epiphany the last time, I had some people reach out and say, “I can’t believe you don’t understand what Epiphany is,” and others who just wanted to tell me what it meant to them. One of those responders was Linsey Lee from the M.V. Museum. I love Linsey Lee. I can’t imagine the amount of Island knowledge she carries within her head and heart as the oral history curator at the museum. And if you talk to her for about 30 seconds, you’ll see her passion for her work.

Anyway, Linsey sent me some information about how the Portuguese celebrated Christmas and Epiphany on the Island. I wanted to share it with you. “Seeing your piece this week in The Times on Epiphany, I thought you might enjoy this piece that I put together for the museum’s social media pages,” Linsey wrote.

I want to introduce you to the words of Joe Nunes as he describes the holiday traditions he experienced on the Island. You can watch this at youtu.be/zFnxC5YQ4J4, and you can read it here from Linsey:

Joe Nunes: Christmas, New Year’s, and Dia de Reis — altars, music, and dancing

Portuguese immigrants, who came to the Vineyard in large numbers between the 1880s and the 1920s, brought with them the holiday traditions of the country they’d left behind. Sadly, most of these traditions are now just memories, but even today there are some Vineyarders who still recall the joy of these festivities.

For Joe Nunes (1910 – 2008) of Oak Bluffs, upholding Portuguese traditions and supporting the Portuguese community on the Vineyard were of great importance. He was always active with the Holy Ghost Society, serving as the president, and took on many roles in the annual Holy Ghost Feast. Along with friends he planned and built the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs in 1930, which became a popular gathering place and center for community events. The Holy Ghost Feast moved from its old location, and has been held at the P.A. Club for more than 90 years.

In an excerpt from an 1999 interview, Joe talks with Jean Andrews about the festivities on Christmas, New Year’s, and continuing until Dia de Reis (Feast of the Three Kings, Epiphany) on Jan. 6. Traditionally, groups of singers and musicians walked to their neighbors’ homes in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, sang Portuguese songs, visited, and danced. And Joe also speaks of the beauty and intricacy of the altars set up in many homes to honor the saints and the baby Jesus.

Joe served for 42 years with the Oak Bluffs Fire Department. Read more about Joe Nunes’ life in “More Vineyard Voices — Words, Faces and Voices of Island People.”

What this reflection means to me is an affirmation that we miss our old ways, our traditions around celebrating our faith, no matter what faith it might be. Traditions take us back to our childhoods, when our grandparents really factored into the way we celebrated. These days, people are spread out far and wide. I hear all the time about grandparents traveling halfway around the country to see their grandchildren. I’m not bemoaning their children, I’m just thinking about how different that is from the way I grew up.

On Christmas Eve, we drove to Illinois to see my dad’s side of the family. Christmas Day was reserved for a trip to my maternal grandparents’ house in Missouri. My dad’s parents lived farther away, all of a half-hour, which seemed far to me back then; my mom’s parents were never more than 20 minutes away, usually closer. At Christmas, my siblings and I played with our cousins, compared presents we’d gotten so far, and marveled at our grandparents’ Christmas trees. There were no packing suitcases, no airplane tickets, or worry about what the weather might be like where the rest of the family lived. No checking weather apps. We just hopped into the car and went, without seatbelts, I might add.

There was a simpleness about that. It had a goodness that I look back at now and miss. I still love being around my relatives, and I live at least 800 miles away from most of them. I love them all so much.

My daughter laughed at me this past weekend while we were driving around Boston. I told her that I didn’t think there was an ailment in the world that couldn’t be cured by love. She said something like, “The world according to Connie.” I said, Laugh all you want, every single thing boils down to love.

That love we all feel when we’re with family or friends, no matter if we’re 20 or 80, is invaluable. Best thing ever. Really.

I know that the epiphany was an epiphany. The momentous understanding that God is for everyone. Of course he is. My epiphany this year is that I miss everyone. I miss those days when I was growing up surrounded by family. I’m not near any of my extended family anymore. I have my children around me, and I thank God for that every day. I don’t go to sleep at night worrying about why they aren’t a big deal in NYC, or making a living in a resort in Colorado, or at a big business in Chicago. I’m just glad they’re near me because I love them.