Although it occurs in the summer, the Feast of the Holy Ghost, which took place last weekend at the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs, transcends the seasons.
“We start talking about this in the middle of winter,” said Janet Hathaway of Edgartown, reminiscing about previous feasts her grandparents “from the Old Country” would attend, making the trip from the mainland to spend the day with Vineyard relatives.
It’s easy to see what draws the community, Portuguese and otherwise, to the unassuming building on Vineyard avenue for the annual Pentecostal celebration. If you’re not enticed by the prospect of seeing “all the locals you haven’t seen all summer,” as Portuguese-American Club president and feast coordinator Tricia Bergeron is, maybe the smell of sopa — all 250 gallons of it, according to one kitchen estimate — wafting up the street will pull you in. And if not the sopa, maybe the shish kebabs. Or maybe the fried dough, or the littlenecks.
The event, which began at 5 p.m. on Saturday and continued the next day with a morning parade through downtown Oak Bluffs and more feasting in the afternoon, is held in honor of the 13th century Portuguese Queen Isabella. Stories surrounding Queen Isabella and her generosity are many, but all have at their core the Queen’s crown, one of the most recognizable symbols of the Feast and itself a symbol of the presence of the Holy Ghost.
The task of carrying Isabella’s crown in the parade was given this year to Chloe Combra.
The parade, which featured the Bay State Band of New Bedford, traditional Portuguese dancers, and a Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-themed float, kicked off at the top of Oak Bluffs avenue, weaving up Circuit avenue to Our Lady Star of the Sea Church before turning onto Vineyard avenue. The procession then paused at the cemetery to lay wreaths in honor of Portuguese-American Club members who had died — this year’s feast was named in honor of the late Bobbi Ann Gibson — before ending at the club itself.
Ms. Bergeron expected anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 attendees to stop by the feast. Because the event is free for all to attend — food and drinks are purchased with tickets — exact numbers are hard to come by. Even rough estimations are difficult, said Ms. Bergeron, because “every year the [size of the rental] tent gets bigger.”
“It’s a week of nonstop planning,” said Ms. Bergeron. “There’s a core group that is very dedicated [to the event]; somebody is here working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.”
Still, “the togetherness of it all” is what she enjoys most about the feast.
Indeed, Ms. Hathaway summed up the weekend in three words: “Family, food and fun.”
And for Marty Nadler, the plethora of tasty treats available gave the Feast of the Holy Ghost a different sort of significance.
“It means another two pounds,” he said with a laugh.