Holy Ghost Festas -- Queens

In 1906, a writer for a Santa Clara newspaper referred to the crown bearer as a queen.

Years:  1885 — 2020

Role of Queens

As the 21st century dawned in California, the queen of the festa had become the focus of the centuries-old Holy Ghost Festa.  The queen’s position had become an amalgam of ancient tradition with cultural transformation.  In one respect, the queen of the festa is a representation of charitable Queen St. Isabel of Portugal. In another respect, the queen is the queen of her community, borrowing from the American tradition of the queen of the parade or the queen of the carnival.

Early California Celebrations

The earliest celebrations of the Holy Ghost festa in California closely resembled the ancient celebration in the Azores.  There was no queen; in fact, the main celebrant was a male – the “Mordomo”.  Sometimes, he would be accompanied by a young girl in her First Communion dress, inside a square of “varas” – four poles held by pre-teen girls.

Crown Bearers

However, the new world environment would change the ancient customs.  These young girls became crown bearers, carrying the crown during the procession.  By the first decade of the 1900s, female crown bearers in their early teens were common.  A significant addition was the style of attire worn by the crown bearers.  First Communion dresses gradually gave way to pretty organdy dresses with ruffles, and nosegay garlands replaced veils and bows.  In 1905, in Santa Clara, a cape had already been added to the costume.  In some areas, capes were not introduced until the 1930s.

Crown Bearers to Queens

By 1914-15, a significant number of crown bearers were being addressed as queens.  In 1906, a writer for a Santa Clara newspaper referred to the crown bearer as a queen.  Current fashion also began to take hold.  The queens of the Portuguese festas, as with the queens of other American celebrations, wanted to be fashionable, so the style of the dress and the cape became popular.  Elegance became an important facet of the festa queen.

Choosing the Queen

How one became queen was a matter left to local communities.  In some instances, she worked her way up a rotation to the exalted position of queen.  In other communities, lots were drawn to select the queen.  In other areas, the girl who sold the most raffle tickets became queen.  Some queens were promoted by family influence – usually the head of the festa committee’s daughter would be awarded the coveted crown.  Whatever the selection process, the one overarching characteristic of the queen was her great pride in representing her local community as the queen of the Portuguese festa.


The role of queen has also contributed much to generational solidarity in passing a shared culture and experience from one generation to another.  Throughout many communities in California, there is a lineage of great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and daughter queens.

The Portuguese festa queen, as she elegantly and regally presides over the Portuguese festa, embodies the sense of deep religious tradition, a new acculturation to America, and the generational pride and continuity that is important for the retention of this tradition for generations to come.

Images  (click on image to view full size)