For the last 130 summers in East Harlem, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has hosted a festival honoring the Mother of Christ. While the celebration began modestly, by 1917 it was attracting thousands of Italians and Italian Americans. The appeal of this festival and the church that sponsored it as well as this specific incarnation of the Madonna herself are icons of Italian American history and culture.
The festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an example of the Italian festa, one of the many wonderful traditions our forebears brought with them from the old country. These street parties, which were dedicated to various saints, mix the sacred and the profane, as one commentator describes them. Along with prayers and donations to the church, there is a carnival atmosphere complete with food, music, rides, and