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Five Facts About the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festa

I think we can all agree that there are certain traditions that are rocks in the foundation of our culture.  As Portuguese, especially those of us in California, festas (festivals) are an integral part of the Portuguese calendar and of who we are.  Every one of us has a favorite festa for reasons as varied as the festas themselves.   The Festa do Espirito Santo (Festival of the Holy Spirit) begins the annual cycle of Portuguese festas in California.  There is so much that’s beautiful, poignant, and even bittersweet about the Holy Ghost Festa.  Here are just five things to help you understand this bedrock of Portuguese tradition.  

This is a Timeless Tradition. 

The Aҫorean tradition of the festa of the Holy Ghost is based on the miracle of a 14th century Queen Isabel of Portugal, who was a champion of the poor and helped organize ways to feed them when earthquakes, and subsequent famine, ravaged the Aҫores.  The retelling of this miracle deserves a blog of its own so for this short explanation, I’ll say that her deep faith in the Holy Spirit created a miracle where her bread hidden in the folds of her dress to flowers.  This saved her from being caught in an act of defiance that wouldn’t have ended well for her otherwise.  Please note, there are other versions of this explanation.  

The Tradition Followed the People from the Aҫores

 Azoreans in the United States have been celebrating the Holy Ghost Festa for more than 100 years.   California is home to the largest Aҫorean population in the country, with over 85% of California’s Portuguese population being of Aҫorean descent.  Taking that into consideration explains why there are many festas!   

The Holy Ghost Festa is Based in Catholicism but Not Hosted or Organized by the Church.  

You read that correctly.  Because the original Portuguese immigrants formed fraternal organizations in order to support their assimilation while also maintaining their traditions, they are the organizers and hosts of the Holy Ghost festas. According to the Portuguese Heritage Publications of California, Inc., there have been as many as 149 Holy Ghost festas celebrated by the Portuguese community in California.  That’s not to imply that there are still that many still celebrated annually. 

There is a Season of the Holy Ghost Festa. 

The festas held during the months of April and May in California, are to celebrate the Holy Ghost miracle.  There’s an annual calendar of festas that happen each year on the same cycle, but not all are Holy Ghost festas.  The season for the Holy Ghost festas is in the spring beginning in April through June of each year.  But other festas continue throughout the summer and into the fall. 

The Festa is Devotion in Motion 

Each festa, whether it’s one devoted to the Holy Spirit or to other sacred entities, has many moving parts.  There’s no way to do justice here to all of them.  But here are the main elements found in the Holy Ghost festa.   The festa is open to the public without admission costs.   No one must pay for the main meal served, but donations are greatly appreciated.  There’s always a parade representing Queen Isabel and her courts.  There’s always a Catholic mass associated with the celebration.  There’s a session of praying the rosary.  There's music and dancing.  And there's fun.  

So, during this sad era in our history when we aren’t spending time attending our beloved festas, we can at least spend a few moments reminiscing about them.  

From your friends at Rooster Camisa, haja saude and be safe. 

Written by Margaret Resendes Peek

1 comment

  • I enjoyed reading your post. I was Little Queen in 1955 and Big Queen in 1966 for the IES hall in East San Jose. This was such a Blessing in my life.

    Linda ( Nunes) Martinez

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