It was a celebration not only of ties that bind, but of ties that could be created, then reinforced.
This past weekend, Irpinia Stories had the chance to go on the road to Boston, Massachusetts, to participate in the North End’s Saint Anthony’s Feast, which is the largest of its kind in New England, as I have written in a previous post. The Feast was brought to the North End by immigrants from Montefalcione, and the tradition has continued for more than 100 years.
I have been to the North End on many occasions, my books are sold at I AM Books, and the late Anthony V. Riccio, a dear friend and fellow Italian American historian, ignited in me a love for this neighborhood that represents a slice of the past that beautifully endures. I had never been to one of the North End’s many Italian feasts, but that changed on Saturday afternoon.
Upon entering the Feast from the Endicott Street side near where we parked on Cooper Street, I, along with my mother, Annie, and fiancé, Sean, were all greeted by “Cini,” a dancing arancini that welcomed children and adults alike while beckoning them to try the treats at a nearby stand (we did, they were delicious). Above us green, white, and red tinsel signaled to us that we were in the heart of Italy in America, while around us played Italian music that you couldn’t help but sing along to (which I did… several times).
Our first stop was the Project Paulie stand, where my mother and I were both intrigued by the cute tomato hats that were for sale. We found out that Project Paulie is an organization based in the North End that is dedicated to combatting food insecurity in the Boston area, and the color of each hat represents an organization that betters the regional community. As a bonus, they were offering free embroidering for the Feast done on an old-fashioned pedal sewing machine like those that many Italian immigrants—including my late Aunt Jennie—used to sew with way back when.
When our embroidery was done, our new-found friends at Project Paulie suggested we then hit up Holy Cannoli a few stands down for what one of them called “the best ricotta cake I’ve ever had.” She was right, it was amazing, as were the stand’s glorious cannoli, filled fresh on the spot and served in a delectable shell. We were told that the chocolate chip cannoli regularly sell out, and that’s not a surprise.
Mom wanted to get a spot for the Mass at 5:00 p.m., so she sent Sean and me to walk around the Feast a little more. We passed by the chapel dedicated to St. Anthony, where the line to pin a donation to his sash stretched deep into the crowd. We also visited St. Lucy in her chapel, as the Thursday and Friday of the Feast are dedicated to her, and I have a particular devotion to this wonderful saint. There we were shown her relic—the only one of its kind in the United States—which is a piece of her skin. The woman who showed it to us explained that because of this Feast’s prominence, they were given a first-class relic of hers. I cannot accurately put into words how moved I was even standing there looking at this relic of a saint who is so precious to me, but tears did come to my eyes as I thanked her for all she has done and continues to do in my life.
Our next stop was a brief one in the Sant’Antonio di Padova da Montefalcione clubhouse to look for our friend, Christian Guarino, the association’s president who, unfortunately, wasn’t there as he was rightfully busy making sure the event ran smoothly. Still, everyone was friendly and welcoming, and they suggested other sites to see and stands to visit at the Feast. The pride in their Montefalcione roots was palpable, you could tell this by the look in people’s eyes when they mentioned their grandparents or other family members who instilled in them a love for the Feast and their Italian heritage. In many conversations, I overheard people reminiscing about those who have gone before whose spirit still lives on.
After we left the clubhouse, I struck up a conversation with the lovely couple running an Italian T-shirt stand near the end of Endicott Street, as I had purchased a few items from them. The man running the stand told me that St. Anthony’s is one of his favorite events because the people are “old school,” and the energy is all positive and friendly. The woman running the stand asked me, “So, am I going to see you next year?” I replied “Yes,” and the man handed me a mug celebrating Italy’s 2020 European Championship win, “Here, for you. See you next year.”