Time-honored tradition

Wesley Ennis
Brooke Stokes and Queen Gabrielle Pestana arrive at the Holy Ghost field during last year’s Festa.

With strong roots as an annual tradition in North Plymouth, the Holy Ghost Festa brings people together in celebration of faith and heritage.

ss_icon Last year's Holy Ghost Festival

The Holy Ghost Festa was a three-day event that started on a Friday and ended Sunday when Lenny Vaz and his friends continued a tradition that had been so important to his parents and generations before them. World War II had put a hold on the tradition, but Vaz, chairman of the festival board of directors, Tony Costa and their friends were determined to bring it back.

“It’s about people, about family,” Vaz said. “To me it means a lot of memories of my mother and father and memories of being in the parade.

The Holy Ghost Festa, or Festa do Espirito Santo, carries on a Portuguese tradition that in North Plymouth features a procession led by a teenager chosen to represent Portugal’s Queen Isabel through the streets to St. Mary Church for the crowning of a young boy or girl as part of Mass.

Doris Pederzani, also a member of the festival board of directors, said it’s heartening that young people like Catherine Arruda, 16, this year’s queen, and Elizabeth Anabel, 8, who will be crowned, and their parents consider it an honor to be chosen. Both Arruda and Anabel have grown up in the tradition.

“It’s always youngsters who have taken part in the parade in the past and have grown up in the parade,” Pederzani said. “It’s an important part or our tradition.”

The Holy Ghost Festa has its roots in 14th century Portugal. Festival patron saint Queen Isabel had developed a reputation for caring for the poor. She put on a feast celebrating the Holy Ghost, to whom she had prayed for food to feed her people. The festival tradition shifted to the Azores and was carried to the United States with Azorean immigrants. Isabel became sainted and remains revered for her role that stood in stark contrast to her husband, the stern and even cruel King Diniz.

The Holy Ghost Festa procession starts at 9:30 a.m. this Sunday, July 20, at the Young America Club on Ocean View Avenue and continues north along Standish Avenue, down Hamilton Street to Court Street to St. Mary’s for a 10:30 a.m. Mass. After Mass the procession will continue to the Holy Ghost Field on South Cherry Street for Portuguese food and festivities starting at 12:30 p.m. Vaz will run an auction and entertainment will feature local jazzman Johnny Souza and a Portuguese dance group from 1 to 6 p.m.

Every year the board of directors awards three scholarships and donates money raised during the Festa to St. Mary’s and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

That first year after Vaz and friends brought it back, the Holy Ghost Festa was held at Stephens Field and featured a candlelight procession Friday night, a battle of two bands and large fireworks display Saturday night and a Sunday morning parade. Vaz said live animals from chickens to calves would be auctioned.

Vaz and other committee members made the two bandstands out of drums from the Cordage Company where they worked.

“We built all the concession stands that summer,” he said. “We’d build them after work at night and transport them over to Stephens Field.”

Vaz said the festival is a special time, a homecoming. He has fond memories of years past, from the time he was a child to the present. He hopes the tradition of the Holy Ghost Festa can continue for generations to come. He enjoys seeing all the young people, whether Arruda’s age or her mother, Cindy (Souza) Arruda’s age, carry on planning the Festa.

“I’d like to have more young people not just participate but take over,” he said. “I’d love to see the tradition continue.”

The Souza sisters, Cindy Arruda and Kathy Woodworth, and other friends of her generation serve on the board of directors alongside Vaz, Pederzani and others of their generation out of a desire to keep the tradition alive.

“Those of us who are around and grew up with it want it to continue and will do what we can,” she said.

Woodworth said people don’t have to be of Portuguese descent to be a part of the Holy Ghost Festa. She wants to share the tradition with everybody who sees the value of community.