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Perfectly Imperfect Life..........

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Missing the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festa and Sopas

Both of my parents were Portuguese, so we attended Festas Spring through Fall throughout California each year during my childhood and I continue to do so now with my family. 

Except for this year due to the pandemic :(

Above is St. Michael's Catholic Church in Livermore my family attended and I grew up in.  We attended so many growing up. My parents always went to celebrate at St. Michael's, as well as, Manteca because we had family there.

Our family has spread out over the years ~
 since my Sister and I have left the nest, we've ventured out a bit.
My Sister lives in Petaluma so we have gone to several there.
I live in Newman, so we've celebrated here and we have attended the largest in the valley at Our Lady Of Miracles in Gustine.
It has been the largest for many, many years. When my Dad was little they lived in Modesto and would make room at their home for many Portuguese friends who would travel cross country to come to Gustine for the celebration.

When my Mother was young she was crowned Queen at St Michael's in Livermore 
where she was born and raised, as were my sister and I.

My Grandmother made her beautiful beaded long dress 
with collar and train by hand! Who was a beautiful seamstress in her own right.

Now as my parents have gotten older (and since Mom has passed) we attend The Holy Ghost in Livermore.
It's usually around Dad's Birthday so it makes for an overall beautiful celebration.

So what is the Festa? What does it represent and celebrate? 
This article describes it well. 

"Feed your fascination for other cultures by going to a Portuguese Holy Ghost festival.  Whether your name is Silva or McClanahan, you'll be welcomed.

Portuguese Americans from the Azores-many whose ancestors came to the West to fish or farm hold festas (pronounced "fesh-tas") in California, Nevada, and Hawaii. There may be one in your city or town; more than 500,000 Azorean Americans live in California alone.

The festa tradition, which has been observed in this country for about a hundred years, mingles Catholic religious beliefs and ancient legend. Although the sentiment behind festa's is the same everywhere, particular customs can differ between communities. The Sunday portion usually starts at 10 A.M., with a parade from the Portuguese hall in town to church. Other fesh-tivities sometimes including bloodless bullfights-- take place on Friday evenings, Saturdays, and Monday evenings.

But for the uninitiated, the Sunday events are the most interesting. Appointed festa Queens (big Queen and little Queen) and their Side Maids make their way down the parade route towing capes of velvet, jewels, seed pearls, beading, feathers, and appliques (their finery, and other aspects of the festa, recall 14th-century Queen Isabel, a peacemaker and friend to the poor-particularly during a Portuguese famine). 

A Portuguese brass band or two enliven the atmosphere. 

At the church, the costumed parade cast jams into the front pews, and a Mass is said, often in Portuguese. After the Mass, the priest crowns the Queen at the altar.

A feast of tradition ~
The parade then returns to the Portuguese hall, where the new Queen releases a white dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, into the air. (The popular belief that a visit from the Holy Spirit is what enabled Isabel to relieve her people's suffering is the subject of several miraculous legends; according to one, the queen, smuggling food to the poor in midwinter, produced live roses from her robes when her husband, Diniz, demanded to see what she was concealing.)

Inside the festa hall, volunteers prepare sopas e carne (beef soup),
served free to everyone in the charitable spirit of Isabel.  The cooking starts in the wee hours of the morning in order to have enough to feed everyone who attends, Portuguese or not.

To make the sopas, cows donated by Portuguese community members are slaughtered and boiled for about 6 hours in huge pots (some large enough to hold the meat of entire cows).  Added are onions, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, tomato, wine, and sometimes cabbage. The broth is poured over French bread and mint sprigs; the beef is served alongside.

Bread and meat are served to the tables in huge metal bowls along with carafes of wine.

The hall fills up fast, as people finish, more are ushered in.

Everyone makes their plate.

Throughout the day, you can usually buy other Portuguese specialties-sweet bread, linguicatremocos (boiled lupino beans).

After the meal, an auctioneer sells donated items like homemade bread, homemade wine, homemade table linens and a multitude of other items..  

Proceeds are used to defray the cost of the festa's. Portuguese music fills the hall Sunday night (or sometimes Saturday),
and dancers stamp their feet, spin,
and pose according to the calls of the Chamarita. Generally, a community holds its festa at the same time every year."
Sunset Magazine

Every year I try (someone usually outbids me) to win some homemade delicacy.
This year I finally did!!

Portuguese Sweet Bread,  Portuguese Cheese From Portugal (huge wheel came into the Oakland Port, they cut wedges and zip locked),
Casal Mendes (a white Portuguese Wine),
and the illusive Pièce de résistance....
Aquardente (Homemade Portuguese moonshine)!!

Donations are also given after the meal. Deacon Dave receives one from the Knights of Columbus.  Talk about a small world ~ Dave and my sister graduated High School together. She used to date him!

Since they were all cancelled, I decided to make Sopas myself. Mom used to make it all the time. This is her recipe.



  • 3/4 container Pickling Spice
  • 5 Bay Leaves
  • 1 can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves Garlic, chopped
  • Dash Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup Dry Red Wine (Burgandy)
  • 3 lbs. Stew Meat
  • 1 bunch Fresh Mint, tied into a bundle
  • 1 loaf French Bread, sliced
  • Water, to cover
Place Pickling Spice and Bay Leaves in Spice Bag or make Cheesecloth bundle.

Tie spice bundle tight

You can see Mom's recipe had been used many, many times

Boil meat till tender, reserving the liquid. Place all ingredients, but the Mint, into dutch oven/kettle. Fill with water until all is covered. Simmer 3-4 hours, covered.

Add the tied bunch of Mint. 

Simmer 20 minutes more covered. Remove spice bundle and Mint bunch. Discard. Serve gravy and meat over sliced French Bread and enjoy!


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