History of the Feast

A procession of adults and children dressed as saints, and others in traditional Azorean garb, marched to band tunes. The beloved Holy Ghost crown held high above all heads, and the red Holy Ghost flag flies freely. The celebration is “one of the major feasts of the Azorean people,” “It goes back centuries. It’s a real marker of identification for Azoreans everywhere.”  Feasts are held throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Brazil, Cape Verde and, of course, in the Azores. “It’s completely due to Azorean immigration.”

The crown carried so proudly at a Holy Ghost procession, and displayed at the feast, is a symbol of kindness to the poor and a miracle that took place in the 13th century. The story goes that St. Isabel, the daughter of a Spanish king and wife of King Diniz of Portugal, defied his orders not to associate with or feed the poor. With gifts of bread stashed in the folds of her dress, she was nearly discovered by the king when he followed her to town. “What do you have there?” the king asked. “Roses,” she replied, afraid to be found out. When he made her show him what she had, a miracle occurred. She opened the first fold of her dress and revealed beautiful roses.

Besides feeding the poor, Isabel also allowed peasants and children to wear her crown, making it an important symbol in today’s Holy Ghost feasts. “It’s the one day of the year when the whole world is upside down … when the king does not wear the crown.” The idea was to make the poor royalty for a day where they could eat and dance, and escape from their daily lives.

Holy Ghost feasts are traditionally held on Pentecost Sunday, but are now typically held throughout the spring and summer at various churches and clubs. The Holy Ghost Club of Martha’s Vineyard holds its annual feast the third full weekend in July and has been doing so since the 1920’s. In the United States, the culture of the Holy Ghost feast connected new Azorean immigrants to their homeland. It was, and still is, a way to unite, pray, celebrate and remember their roots. To the elderly, the Holy Spirit is “almost a family friend. There’s a very strong emotional bond. It’s a very curious thing.”