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  • A Saint's Feast Day Is Still Important to Many Italians
    We want to know how you celebrate the feast day of particular saints. Find out how to let us know your traditions by reading on
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    AUGUST 10, 2008 - This weekend, I made like a real Italian and celebrated the feast of San Rocco. My hometown of Fort Lee, N.J., has hosted this feast for nearly 80 years, and it has special significance for Italian Americans in town, especially those from our native Ischia, an island off the coast of Napoli, whose town Barano calls San Rocco as its patron saint. In fact, after being closed for many years, Barano's Church of San Rocco re-opened its doors recently, much to the joy of Ischitani in Italy and abroad. Feasts for saints are a special part of southern Italian life - and one that is often misunderstood by non Italians in the United States and other places where many Italians live.

    Saints mean something to Catholics, and especially southern Italians. San Rocco, for instance, is such an important figure in the life of Barano residents that many people name their sons after their hometown's patron saint. My maternal grandfather, Rocco Di Costanzo, is among such residents. This is typical of Italians in southern Italy. A few towns over in Ischia Ponte, the patron saint, Giovan Giuseppe, has given name to many residents, even some who moved to San Pedro, Calif. Former Ischia Ponte residents who now live in San Pedro continue to celebrate their saint every September while their friends and family back home are doing the same.

    My paternal grandfather, Giovanni Battista Di Meglio, also was named for the patron saint of his town Buonopane, Ischia. Even after he moved to the United States in 1960, ever year on June 24, the feast of San Giovanni Battista, he expected his family to fete him with a special meal and dessert. We all gathered together, and the grandsons, who had been named after him, my brother included, would get little gifts and lots of attention. Back in Ischia, the town of Buonopane would throw a big street party, replete with roasted peanuts, games, and music by the folk troupe 'Ndrezzata, of which my nonno Giovanni, who played the clarinet, was once the leader.

    These festivities take place all over the island - and throughout southern Italy. On my last trip to Italy in June, in fact, I participated in the procession of San Pietro on his June 29 feast day. I marched throughout the town of Ischia Porto, alongside my nieces Francesca, Laura, and Giulia, who served as altar girl, first Communion class member, and angel respectively. Then, we participated in Mass on the beach, followed by a fireworks display and more marching until we brought the saint statue back to its rightful home in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Pietro.

    Why am I telling you about these Italian feasts? Well, because often Americans think of feasts like the upcoming San Gennaro festival in New York as an excuse to eat zeppoles and take a spin on the Merry Mixer. Truly, these feasts are formed of tradition and have much greater significance both on a religious and cultural level. At one point, they were a way for Italians to prove their religious faith and honor and pray to a saint. When Italians moved abroad, they became a way for Italians in this new world to find one another and share in similar customs. Now, they are an opportunity - one that we are missing - to educate the world on our culture and beliefs in a fun way.

    That's why I'd like to get help from you for an article that I plan to run in this column on Monday, Sept. 1, 2008. I want you to drop me an e-mail with a brief explanation of how and why you celebrate a particular saint's day. In your own words, explain why the feast is so important to you and what it says about your Italian heritage. Be sure to include at least your first name and where you live (city and state). Send your e-mail to francesca@francescadimeglio.com.

    Di Meglio is the guide to Newlyweds for About.com, where you'll find scoop on everything from romancing your spouse to getting cozy on a love seat.

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