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The North End’s Hot Dog Santa


Since I based my last two holiday articles on what I found searching the Boston Globe’s historical database, I thought I would make it three in a row by looking around for something on New Year’s Day in the North End. I found something, and this one surprised me. It is about a man named Axel Bjorklund, who used to give out free hot dogs to the poor children of the North End on New Year’s Day. The Globe does not provide any history or background on Bjorklund. A 1923 article simply tells us that Bjorklund had opened his sausage ...

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Christmas Tree Origins and an 1896 Celebration in the North End


I always grew up with a decorated Christmas tree. Along with the Manger, the tree seemed both a very Italian and a very Catholic thing to have in the house. The gifts were under the tree and we usually opened them on Christmas morning. I know now, but I didn’t know then, that in Italy people give gifts on the eve of the Epiphany, January 6, and they are brought by La Befana. Today, this tradition still holds, though Babbo Natale and the giving of gifts on Christmas day are becoming more popular in Italy (and many other places, such ...

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Thanksgiving Eve in the North End, 1910


What was Thanksgiving like in the North End in 1910? James Pasto finds an article describing just that.

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Dating Disaster All Over Again


I had been listening to Solo Noi on repeat for days. I just turned 30 and had just been dumped. And Solo Noi, with its dramatic music and haunting lyrics, is arguably the best breakup song of all time. Anyway, after two weeks of moping and constant Toto Cutugno melodies, my friends and family encouraged me to get back into the dating scene. Shortly thereafter, I met Luke through an online dating site. The only facts I knew about him included: his name, his age (29), his employment status (graduate student), where he lived (Medford) and that his mother was ...

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Our Food… Italian, Italian-American, or American?


Last month I wrote about the “eternal question” (gravy or sauce?), which is a very Italian-American question in the sense that most non-Italian Americans would have little idea of its cosmic significance. This despite the fact that most Americans today enjoy Italian and Italian-American food as very much part of ‘their’ cuisine, particularly spaghetti. This has not always been the case, of course. When Italians first came to the United States, Italian food was very much a strange cuisine. Here is Fredrick Bushee, a Social Worker of the South End House, describing the food of the Italians of the North ...

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The Eternal Italian American Debate: ‘Gravy’ or ‘Sauce’


In the first chapter of her excellent and enjoyable book “Gravy Wars,” Lorraine Ranalli states that the term gravy is “unique” to South Philly Italians. By “gravy” she means what most people call “sauce” — that tomato-ey stuff that goes on pasta. I met Lorraine a few years ago when she was at a reading with Lisa Cappuccio. I told her that up here in the North End, we — at least some of us – called it gravy too. She was surprised – just as I was surprised that she thought the word gravy was only used by Italian ...

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When calcio first came to the North End


Soccer via the World Cup is making the headlines this past month. Recently, in column for in the Clarion-Ledger, Ann Coulter helped it along when she linked the growing popularity of soccer to “moral decay” in the United States. I thought it was a funny column, a tongue-in-cheek stab at the definite media hype around this increasingly (albeit quadrennially) popular sport. One point she spoke a definite truth: “If more ‘Americans’ are watching soccer, it is only because of the demographic switch” brought about by the 1965 immigration law. This law did allow a different demographic into the United States, ...

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Love comes softly


One of my mother’s favorite films is the Hallmark Channel’s 19th-century period piece “Love Comes Softly,” starring a fresh-faced Katherine Heigl. The story centers on a pregnant widow who finds herself stranded out West during the winter and forced to live with a widower and his daughter on his farm. At the outset, the couple hates one another of course, but slowly they cultivate a mutual understanding and respect, and ultimately develop a passionate and deep love. At one point in the movie, her neighbor — a slightly older woman who has perhaps picked up on the chemistry between the ...

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Returning to Italy: Any Suggestions?

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“What are you going to write about this month?” asked my sister. I let out a long sigh, “I haven’t a clue. Maybe I have writer’s block or something? Any ideas?” She was quiet for a minute. Although my sister Lisa lived hundreds of miles away in Washington D.C., I could picture her deep in thought: phone in hand, lips pursed, eyes slightly squinted. #184162944 / gettyimages.com “Hmmm … what about the time you slapped me in Basilicata?” I laughed; I should have seen this coming. “You are never going to let that go, are you?” “Nope. Never. You slapped ...

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A Modern History Lesson in the North End

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Last July, I wrote about North Ender Cotton Mather and his involvement in what is called the “First American Revolution” of 1689. The “second” and more renowned American Revolution took place almost a hundred years later, and it too involved North Enders, like Robert Sexton and Paul Revere, playing a key role. That story is well-known, but it deserves retelling. However, I’m not going to do that here, at least not this year. Rather, I’d like to point out, truthfully, how oblivious I was to the history and historical sites I walked past every day as a kid. #sb10065822f-001 / ...

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World Cup Kicks off in Brazil – Forza Azzurri!

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Every four years, for one month in the summer, Italy truly becomes one nation, united under one jersey. It’s World Cup time! Almost every single Italian living on Earth has a memory tied to “i Mondiali” — be it the “Notti Magiche” of Italia ’90, or the heart-stopping penalty kicks against France that led the Azzurri to win their fourth World Cup in 2006. My first vivid World Cup memory dates back to the summer of 1994. The soccer tournament was being held in the United States, and Italy had been led by my hero, Roberto Baggio, all the way ...

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Breakfast with the St. Mark Society

The Saint Mark Society, 1910

The St. Mark Society -- or more properly, Societa Cattolica Italiana di San Marco -- was founded in 1884 by Italian immigrants from Genoa.

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