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A magical moment at St. Anthony’s Feast

St. Anthony's Feast in the North End

St. Anthony’s Feast in the North End

A few years ago, I’d experienced Saint Anthony’s Feast in Boston’s North End for the very first time. Growing up Italian in Buffalo, I’d enjoyed summer Italian festivals before, as they’re a regular annual fixture in most American cities. But nothing could prepare me for the sights and sounds of this, the largest Italian Religious Festival in New England.

That day, my husband, Jamie, and I headed into Boston on the last weekend of August, when it’s customarily held, with his grandmother, Josefina or “Josie”, an eighty-five-year-old Italian immigrant whose wish it was to see the feast “one last time.” Together we wheeled her over the uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets of the North End, toward the sound of parade music. Weaving through hoards of people of every ethnicity and age group, we halted abruptly at Endicott, where, at that very moment, the procession passed. Josie grasped her rosary and recited prayers with the loveliest smile, her gaze following the statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, hoisted high in the air by devotees and trailed by marching bands, floats, and revelers. She wept, and I realized then, that the Saint Anthony feast, celebrated every year here since 1919, is an extraordinarily meaningful tradition to Italians of faith in the community.

Saint Anthony of Padua, born in Portugal in 1195, was a Catholic priest and friar of the Franciscan order, who died in 1231 in Padua, Italy. Noted for his forceful preaching and knowledge of scripture, he is the second most canonized saint, and the patron saint of finding lost items or people. My mother and aunts recite the Prayer to Saint Anthony whenever they misplace an ordinary item, like car keys, or even a valuable keepsake like a photograph, and it’s almost always found.

St. Anthony of Padua feast and procession in the North End of Boston.

St. Anthony of Padua feast and procession in the North End of Boston.

The San Antonio Di Padova Da Montefalcione, Inc., is a non-profit, religious and cultural organization founded in 1919 in Boston by a small group of Italian immigrants from the tiny mountain town of Montefalcione, Avellino, just east of Naples in Italy’s Campania region. Their mission includes preserving Italian American traditions, culture, history and heritage, and is dedicated to continuing the tradition of the annual Saint Anthony’s Feast in the North End of Boston. In the true spirit of their patron saint, they’ve supported many charities and organizations in the community and greater Boston, remembering those in need and assisting their fellow citizens.

Dubbed the “Feast of all Feasts” by National Geographic, the Italian street festival encompasses Endicott, Thacher, and North Margin Streets, where visitors may stroll beautifully decorated streets; taste some of the most delectable Italian street foods from over 100 pushcarts, including cannoli, calamari, pizza, pasta, zeppole, and gelato; and experience daily live entertainment, contests, and religious services.

This year’s Saint Anthony’s Feast is Friday-Sunday, August 28-30, with a bonus Santa Lucia Feast Day on Monday, August 31. All entertainment is free and open to the public. Donations are accepted at the Chapel of Saint Anthony and Saint Lucy. The highlight of the event, the Grand Procession, begins at 12:00 noon on Sunday, and last ten hours. For further schedule information on live shows and masses, as well as directions and a list of vendors, be sure to visit StAnthonysFeast.com. Enjoy a cultural tradition that’s not to be missed!

About Gina Fava

Gina Fava is the author of two suspense novels set in Italy, The Race and The Sculptor. She freelances too, sharing stories she's gathered roaming Italy in search of her characters' favorite wines. Visit her website at GinaFava.com and connect via Facebook and Twitter.