Monday, August 15, 2005

In the Popular Tradition

It's being reported out there that the Italians are celebrating Assumption Day as we do best: fighting.

For those who've been to celebrations of this feast in the past, this should come as no surprise.

Every year, the old country's custom of the Wedding of the Sea is honored by the Italian diaspora in the States. It's long been a favorite of mine.

At the Jersey Shore, it happens twice -- a candlelight vigil on the 14th in Wildwood, and the giganta-sized celebration in Atlantic City today. It starts with mass (the AC one is held in old Convention Hall, where Miss America is crowned) and then the faithful flock out onto the beach outside as the litany of Loreto is chanted. As one celebrant once prayed it:
Mystical Rose...
Tower of David...
Tower of Ivory...
Bank of England...
The bishop of Camden, who presides over both festivals, then gets into a boat bearing a wreath decked with flowers and topped by two wedding rings, symbolizing the dependence of the land on the fruits of the water. Lifeguards row the vessel out about 200ft off the shoreline, and the bishop tosses the wreath in. That's the calm part.

On the other side of the boat, 70 year-old Italian men are waiting to tear at each other. Still wearing their regular clothes but chest-deep in the water, they want that wreath. I'm dead serious. No sooner does it hit the water do they go at it, ripping the wreath to shreds so they can take pieces home. It's what we do.

At the waterline, the sane faithful wait with bottles and jars to capture some holy water and bring it home... As if the ocean hadn't been blessed the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that.

With the ritual element done and the old men dried off, the assembled head over to St. Michael's (the former center of Italian life in AC, when Italians actually lived there) for a huge spaghetti dinner. Peace, celebration and rosary sales reign.

Does anything like this happen elsewhere in the country? Or, for that matter, elsewhere outside of Venice?



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