Two days of celebration begin tomorrow with the arrival of the annual Portuguese-American Feast of the Holy Ghost, one of the Island's most revered and riotous rituals.
The event serves as a touchstone for many Islanders of Portuguese descent, and is an example of Vineyarders' capacity to celebrate their heritage, gorge themselves silly and party like there's no tomorrow - all during the same two-day event.
The festival kicks off tomorrow at the Portuguese-American Club on Vineyard avenue in Oak Bluffs at 5:30 p.m. with food - including the traditional sopa of liguica, chorizo, potatoes, kale and cabbage - and music lasting long into the night.
The annual parade begins Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at the Steamship Authority wharf, before going up Circuit avenue and down Vineyard avenue.
The feast has been traced back to Queen Isabel of Aragon in the 13th century. Legend has it the queen started a tradition known as the Coronation of the Emperor, during which she distributed food to the poor and looked upon them as royalty for one day.
Perhaps the most famous legend of the Queen describes how she promised God that she would give up her jewels if the people of Portugal were fed. She went out to distribute her jewels, which she kept wrapped in her dress, and along the way encountered her husband, Dom Diniz.
When the King asked her what she had in her dress, she answered, "Roses, my lord." The king then looked for himself, and indeed there were white roses - despite the fact that it was winter, and roses were not in bloom. The next morning two ships were found abandoned in the harbor and filled with grain and animals, which the Queen commanded be distributed to the poor.
Today, the Queen presides as the patron saint of the festival, a beloved icon that embodies Portuguese pride. David Araujo, a longtime member of the Portuguese-American Club who has served as auctioneer at the feast for more than 20 years, said the number of people of Portuguese descent on the Island has dwindled over the years.
"We've kind of gone from the Portuguese-American Club to more of the international club," he joked, adding:
"Most of all, it's a chance to get together with old friends. Everybody has a great time, whether they are Portuguese or not," Mr. Araujo said.
The auction will take place tomorrow evening around 6:30 p.m., he said. All the items on the auction block are donated by Island residents and business owners, and will likely include staples of the Portuguese diet; such as lobsters and fresh sweet breads.
After 20-plus years as auctioneer, Mr. Araujo admits he has learned to work the crowd.
"At this point I know what I have to do. The most important thing is to keep it fun," he said.
All the money raised at the event goes to support the club's charitable work.
Patricia Bergeron, who is organizing the festival for the 18th year, said it was hard work putting the event together. But in the end, it is all worth it.
"You see the smiles on people's faces and you see them dance and you realize how important this is to people. They look forward to it all year," she said.
Once again, a primary focus of the event will be the food. Volunteers prepare three huge vats of sopa; two are served on Saturday and the final batch is given away for free on Sunday to commemorate Queen Isabel's efforts to feed the poor.
There will also be cacoila, which is a Portuguese marinated pork, and malasadas, which is otherwise known as fried dough. For those with more traditional American tastes, there will also be hot dogs and hamburgers from the grill. There will also be music and carnival type games for children.
The entire two-day festival is steeped in tradition. During Sunday's parade, the Portuguese-American club's crown will be carried by a young girl who has received her first communion. This year Kaitlyn Marchand has been chosen for the honor. She will be dressed as Queen Isabel, and joined during the parade by a court carrying a tray and scepter.
The crown was brought to the Island from Portugal many years ago, although nobody can quite remember who brought it, said Ms. Bergeron. It is kept above the Portuguese-American Club fireplace.
The parade will stop at Our Lady Star of the Sea church, where a Catholic priest will bless the crown. The parade them moves onto Sacred Heart Cemetery, where a wreath will be placed on the grave of a past member. Joining in the march will be the Portuguese folklore dancers from New Bedford, a band and several other Island groups.
Once the parade is finished, the focus again shifts to feasting and fellowship.
"Sunday is really the day when everyone just eats and has a great time. It's a time for everyone to be together again," she said.