The Holy Ghost Festival by Josephine Silva

One of the biggest celebrations of the people from the Azores Islands is the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festival. Or as some call it...the Festa. It is celebrated all through the summer months, usually on the weekend. A dinner is prepared and served to the people on Saturday night and a dinner of sopas is prepared and served on Sunday. Most Holy Ghost Organizations serve hundreds of people and some serve thousands of people the sopas meal. It is usually served free of cost to the guests.

The tradition started in the fourteenth century during the reign of King Diniz. His wife Queen St. Isabel or Elizabeth was responsible for the tradition. I have read and heard many accounts of how the tradition came about. One of my favorite stories is... The people of Portugal were starving and Queen Isabel promised God if He would help her feed the people, she would give away all her jewels. Her cruel husband, King Diniz, saw her with something in her apron. It was the jewels. He asked her what she had in her apron and she replied "roses my lord". He grabbed her apron and out tumbled white was a miracle. It was winter and no roses could grow at that time of year. Then the next morning in the harbor two ships appeared. They were abandoned and on one was grain and on the other was animals. The queen ordered that bread be made with the grain and the meat of the animals cooked for the poor. The queen selected twelve of the poorest men of the town. The poorest of them she placed her crown on his head and made him "emperior" for the day. Then she invited the men to dine on the bread and meat and invited the whole town to come to the great feast as their guests.

Another story I have heard was that there were so many natural disasters in the Azores that the people pray to the Holy Ghost to keep their islands safe. So each year they celebrate the Festa because of the promise or "promessa" they made to the Holy Ghost.

Take your pick...or maybe you know another doesn't really matter which one you believe. It just matters that the Azorean people celebrate the Holy Ghost Festival every year. The celebrating starts on the feast of St. Joseph and continues throughout the summer months.The Holy Ghost Organizations put together the celebration. Today the festival consists of queens or "empress" being selected by the organizations, usually a baby queen, a junior queen and a queen. In the Azores the "emperior" and "empress" are selected. They have side attendants to assist them. The celebration starts with a procession to the Catholic Church where a special Mass is said. Then the procession proceeds to the Holy Ghost Hall or pavilion. The dinner of sopas is served and a dance usually follows.

When we were in the Azores, in the village of Vila Nova on the island of Terceira, we attended a Festa. Flower bedecked carts drawn by donkeys brought the bread to the Holy Ghost Hall or pravilion. A small chapel was prepared and decorated with flowers. The "emperior" and "empress" proceeded down the street, from the church, carrying or wearing the crown and scepter and the people of the parish or organization followed them. A Portuguese band played music while they marched down the street. When they arrived at the small chapel, the crown and scepter were placed on the altar. People went into the chapel and made a promise or "premessa" to God. Bread was distributed to the people. Everyone in our tour group received giant loaves of bread.

How the Portuguese in the US Celebrates

In the United States the celebration continues. The queens wear elegant white gowns and wear elegant hand beaded and decorated capes during the celebration. The capes are truly a work of art. Painstaking hand work decorate the capes. The meal of sopas is served after the Mass on Sunday. An auction is usually held and the proceeds go to the organization to defer the cost of the celebration. The meat is donated by the farmers in the area. Hand embroidered linens , home made sweet bread, fresh vegetables, newborn calves are some of the things donated for the auction. A small chapel is prepared, as in the Azores, and the tradition of the promise is observed. In some areas as many as nine thousand people are served the sopas meal. In my area, Saturday night meal consists of a beans and linguisa. It is served to the people of the parish or organization. People come for many miles around to celebrate the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festival.

In the Azores, each island celebrates the Festa in a different way. On the island of Flores the sweet bread has a big hole in the center and is carried on long poles.

The sopas consists mainly of beef. In each area it is prepare different. Some sopas has blood and liver and linguisa and pork in it. In my area cabbage is added to the meat while it is cooking and served with the meal. Some areas cook only the beef. It is cooked all day and the broth is served over french bread. A sprig of fresh mint is placed on the french bread before the broth is poured over it. The meat is served in separate serving bowls. I personally have decided that heaven smells like sopas, because it is the most wonderful, heavenly aroma I have ever smelled.

If you are Portuguese, you probably have a different story to tell about the Holy Ghost Festival. But I am sure you will agree, it is a tradition that has been celebrated for many years. And will be celebrated for many years to come.


This was beautifully written by Josephine Silva who has been married to her husband John since 1955. They have 3 adult children and 2 super grand kids. They are happily retired and are having fun doing so.

You can visit her at her website and be sure to leave her a great comment on her guestbook.