One sure sign of summer having arrived is the beginning of Italian Festival Season. Italians across the United States can usually find a cultural celebration taking place within hours if not minutes from wherever they may live. The 2013 National Italian American Foundation calendar has identified festivals that will take place throughout the year in 37 of the 50 states. Some states such as New York, California, Florida, Massachusetts and New Jersey have over a dozen each. Ohio, specifically the area of the Western Reserve, is blessed with a very active summer schedule of festivities celebrating the honorable and enduring traditions that are part and parcel of Italians and Italian-Americans who have settled in this historic region.
Some of these events, such as Cleveland's Holy Rosary Parish, located in the historic neighborhood of Little Italy, will be celebrating its 114th edition of the Feast of the Assumption. Parishioners and friends of St. Rocco's in the Clark-Fulton area, Holy Redeemer in Collinwood and Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the Detroit Shoreway will be gathering to celebrate their 99th, 89th and 87th editions of their annual jubilees. To the south of us, Summit County's Council of Italian Societies will be hosting its 66th annual gala. Warren, Youngstown and Canton will be holding their 29th, 28th and 27th annual events respectively this year. Two newer festivals such as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Youngstown and The Italian American Summer Festival in Berea are commemorating their 15th and 13th anniversaries.
What all these occasions have in common is a deep-rooted commitment to the values brought over from Italy by immigrants to the "New Land". Each festa is steeped with its own unique traditions that the participants hold near and dear to their hearts. Masses, processions, foods, music, events and crafts are the reasons for having these gatherings. Loyal followers flock to these festivals in droves to participate in the merriment to rekindle friendships and acquaintances. Some will travel some great distances to return to the parish or neighborhoods where they grew up. A sense of belonging compels them to take time out from their usual routine to pay homage to an annual affair that they unabashedly identify with and wait patiently for year-in and year-out.
Though each festival is unique in its own right; the sights, sounds and smells that permeates one's senses are similar in the nostalgia and occasional melancholy that each generates. The sound of live Italian music both new and old; Italian desserts such as cannoli, sfogliatelle, tiramisù and cassata cakes; the sounds of bocce balls colliding or the shouting that accompanies the "Morra" competitions all combine to overwhelm a person with memorable moments that will become imbued in the very fabric of their being. One does not just attend an Italian festival; one experiences it, consumes it and lives it in a way that is uniquely their own.
Yes, the season of summer is now in full gear and what better way to experience it than by attending one of the many Italian Festivals that we are so fortunate to have in our midst. These are moments for us to cherish pass down to our children, who will one day pass it down to theirs. These traditions and beliefs have been and will continue to be a part of our genetic makeup. These are also opportunities for us to share the greatness of our culture with those from other backgrounds so they can better understand who and what Italians truly are and what they are not, in stark contrast to the common misperceptions that they might often see and hear. Take the time this summer to enjoy one of these local treasures that can only be enjoyed once a year. Hurry before it's too late! Buon divertimento!