Azores Day (Dia dos Acores) is a regional holiday to commemorate Azorean political autonomy established in the Portuguese constitution, following the Carnation Revolution – a military coup in Lisbon on 25 April 1974 which overthrew the regime of the Estado Novo. The original context of Azores Day has changed from a commemoration of a “Day of Autonomy” to one based on the celebration of the political, religious, traditional, and historic context of the Azores within Portugal. Political quarrels between the Azores and the national government are usually highlighted during these celebrations, with political commentaries made by the President of the Regional Government. The day is also associated with the distinctively Azorean Catholic cult of the Holy Spirit.
The islands were known in the fourteenth century and parts of them can be seen, for example, in the Atlas Catalan. In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator, possibly Gonçalo Velho, rediscovered the Azores, but this is not certain. In Thomas Ashe’s 1813 work, “A History of the Azores”, the author identified a Fleming, Joshua Vander Berg of Bruges, who made landfall in the archipelago during a storm on his way to Lisbon. He stated that the Portuguese explored the area and claimed it for Portugal shortly after. Other stories note the discovery of the first islands (São Miguel Island, Santa Maria Island and Terceira Island) were made by sailors in the service of Henry the Navigator, although there are few written documents to support the claims.
Although it is commonly said that the archipelago received its name from the goshawk (Açor in Portuguese), a common bird at the time of discovery, it is unlikely that the bird nested or hunted in the islands.
At some point, following the discovery of Santa Maria, sheep were let loose on the island before settlement actually took place. This was done to supply the future settlers with food because there were no large animals on the island. Settlement did not take place right away, however. There was not much interest among the Portuguese people in an isolated archipelago hundreds of miles from civilization. However, Cabral patiently gathered resources and settlers for the next three years (1433–1436) and sailed to establish colonies on Santa Maria first and then São Miguel next. Settlers cleared bush and rocks to plant crops—grain, grape vines, sugar cane, and other plants suitable for local use and of commercial value. They brought domesticated animals, such as chickens, rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, built houses and established villages.
The archipelago was settled over the centuries largely from mainland Portugal. Portuguese settlers came from the provinces of Algarve, Minho, Alentejo and Ribatejo as well as Madeira. São Miguel was first settled in 1444, the settlers – mainly from the Estremadura, Alto Alentejo and Algarve areas of continental Portugal, under the command of Gonçalo Velho Cabral – landing at the site of modern-day Povoação. In 1522 Vila Franca do Campo, then the capital of the island, was devastated by a landslide caused by an earthquake that killed about 5,000 people, so the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada. The town of Vila Franca do Campo was rebuilt on the original site and today is a thriving fishing and yachting port. Ponta Delgada received its city status in 1546. Once settled, the pioneers applied themselves to agriculture. By the 15th century Graciosa exported wheat, barley, wine and brandy. The goods were sent to Terceira largely because of the proximity of the island.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Graciosa was host to many prominent figures, including Chateaubriand, the French writer who passed through upon his escape to America during the French revolution; Almeida Garrett, the Portuguese poet who visited an uncle and wrote some poetry while there; and Prince Albert of Monaco, the 19th century oceanographer who led several expeditions in the waters of the Azores. He arrived on his yacht “Hirondelle”, and visited the “furna da caldeira”, the noted hot springs grotto. Mark Twain described his time in the Azores in The Innocents Abroad (1869).
Azoreans have developed their own distinct regional identity and cultural traits, from a combination of continental Portuguese customs brought by various waves of immigration and local political and environmental factors. Religious festivals, patron saints and traditional holidays dot the Azorean calendar. The most important religious events are tied with the festivals associated with the Cult of the Holy Spirit, commonly referred to as the festivals of the Holy Spirit (or Espírito Santo), rooted in millenarian dogma and held on all islands from May to September. These festivals are very important to the Azorean people, who are primarily Roman Catholic, and combine religious rituals with processions celebrating the benevolence and egalitarianism of neighbors. These events are centered on treatros or impérios, small buildings that host the meals, adoration and charity of the participants, and used to store the artifacts associated with the events. On Terceira, for example, these impérios have grown into ornate buildings painted and cared for by the local brotherhoods in their respective parishes. The events focus on the members of local parishes, not tourists, but all are welcome, as sharing is one of the main principles of the festivals.
Another event, the Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of Miracles) in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel, is the largest individual religious event in the Azores, and takes place on the fifth Sunday after Easter. Pilgrims from within the Portuguese diaspora normally travel to Ponta Delgada to participate in an afternoon procession behind the image of Christ along the flower-decorated streets of the city. Although the solemn procession is only held on one day, the events of the Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo occur over a period of a week and involve a ritual of moving the image between the main church and convent nightly, ultimately culminating in the procession, which is televised within the Azores and to the Portuguese diaspora. The Sanjoaninas Festivities in Angra do Heroísmo on Terceira are held in June honoring S. Antonio, S. Pedro and S. João, in a large religious celebration.
The festival of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes, (Our Lady of Lourdes), patron saint of whalers, begins in Lajes on Pico on the last Sunday of August and runs through the week—Whalers Week. It is marked by social and cultural events connected to the tradition of whale hunting. The Festa das Vindimas, (Wine Harvest Festival), takes place during the first week of September and is a century-old custom of the people of Pico.
On Corvo the people celebrate their patron saint Nossa Senhora dos Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles) on 15 August every year in addition to the festivals of the Divine Holy Spirit. The Festival da Maré de Agosto (August Sea Festival), takes place every year beginning on 15 August in Praia Formosa on Santa Maria. Also, the Semana do Mar (Sea Week), dedicated almost exclusively to water sports, takes place in August in the city of Horta, on Faial.
Carnaval is also celebrated in the Azores. Parades and pageants are the heart of the Carnaval festivities. There is lively music, colorful costumes, hand-made masks, and floats. Traditional bullfights occur as well as the running of bulls in the streets.
Naturally, feasting featuring local dishes is an important component of these celebrations. Azorean cuisine is obviously derived from traditional Portuguese food, but with variations that have evolved over time. Fish is, of course, a major element. But the Azores are also noted for dairy for cheese and butter, and local beef is a staple. Pork is also popular. Here’s a local recipe for a hearty fennel soup, originally from Portugal but with typical Azorean rustic hints. Linguiça is a Portuguese sausage that you can often find in good supermarkets, or online.
1 ½ cups dried white kidney beans
1 lb pig’s knuckle
2 fennel bulbs with green leaves, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp ground cloves
3 Savoy cabbage leaves, coarsely chopped
3 large new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced crosswise
3 tbsp olive oil
½ lb linguiça, cut into ⅛-in rounds
Soak the beans overnight.
Rub the meat with 2 tablespoons of kosher coarse salt and chill overnight.
Put the pig’s knuckles and beans in a large, heavy pot and cover with water or light stock. Simmer until the meat and beans are tender (about an hour, or more).
Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, cloves, and freshly ground black pepper to taste to the pot. Simmer 5 minutes, then add the fennel, cabbage, potatoes, scallions, olive oil, and sausage. Return the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to simmer until the potatoes are cooked, about 20 minutes.
Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.