The Feast

20 May

Marching a religious statue through the streets surely was a tradition brought from Europe.  For the people of East Harlem, July 16th, the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was waited for with as much if not more excited anticipation than they felt for the arrival of Christmas.   Devotees walked barefoot behind the float and Perry Como was broadcasted from the church, his beautiful voice singing Ava Maria.  We listened from the roof top.

At its height the Feast ran from ten to fourteen days.  Streets were decorated from 106th Street to 125th.  Gaudy tinseled  street crowns appeared a day or two before the official beginning of the celebration from Pleasant Avenue to Third Avenue with the decorations becoming more elaborate as you got closer to the church on 115th Street between First and Pleasant.  They were lit on the first day of the celebration and didn’t darken until the last weekend.

The Italian immigrants carried traditions from the old county.  To honor the Blessed Mother they would hang their best bedspreads out of the front window.   When the float carrying the icon passed , the Virgin would be honored by embroided beauty instead of the old, tired, brick of the tenements.  When I was a teen I would climb out on the fire escape and tie crepe paper streamers all along the rail for the parade.  My Grandmother was so happy that I did it for her.

Truck rides, ferris wheels and half moons among them, were set up from north to south on Pleasant Avenue in front of Benjamin Franklin High School.  It being summer no need to worry about interfering with school sessions.  Pleasant Avenue was  also bordered on the south by Jefferson Park, therefore they could close down the  street for two blocks, 114th to 116th Street.  No through traffic.  On the side streets  were all kinds of games of chance, although very few people ever won anything of real value.  There were vendors selling macadamia nuts on a string, blocks of torrone candy that was cut with an axe (torrone is a nugat candy with nuts in it.  Every time you bit into a piece the chances of breaking your teeth were fifty-fifty), pastry stands (cannolis, cream puffs, st. Josephs, Napoleons etc.), zeppola stands (a fried puff of dough sprinkled liberally with powered sugar), calzone and pizza stands, clams on the half shell,  and of course the piece de’ resistance, sausage and peppers.

Men and women  took off days from their regular nine to five jobs, set up a tent and became a street vendor for a couple of weeks.  They put on aprons and called each other Cheech.   The streets were filled with the aromas of boiling oil for the calzones and zeppolas.  Peppers and onions sizzled on grills waiting for the sausage.  No one worried about trichinosis.  I don’t recall anyone dying.  After all it was for the saint, the Virgin Mary.  Automatically, you have an immunity to disease from food bought at the Feast.

There were also vendors who walked around selling toys on a stick.  Every year I got a thin plastic doll with painted on hair and a betty boop face.  Her dress was a couple of layers of brightly colored tulle and she was beautiful on her stick.  When you brought her upstairs she lived tied to the post of your bed until she got so dusty you threw her away.  One year we stuck her on the top of the lamp shade, but the plastic was so thin it melted from the heat of the lightbulb and set the doll and lampshade on fire.  Fortunately we were alerted and my aunt Connie put it out before anything else caught. 

Aunt Frances and Aunt Mary with their husbands Uncle Henry and Uncle Tommy  and their five children came from Brooklyn, to enjoy the main feast day.  There  in that small apartment was also Aunt Connie and Aunt Butchie, my mother’s other sisters.  Sometimes Uncle Donnie, my Father and Uncle Christy.  Grandma and my Mother (who did all the cooking for this event) my kid sister, Christine and of course me.  They would have to take apart my Grandmother’s bed so a table could be spread from the parlor into the bedroom.  Everyone had a seat at the table.  The traditional feast fare came out in abundance accompanied by a couple of gallons of red wine.

As I got older I would march along side of the float taking donations and handing out scalpulers to the faithful.  Later in the evening I  danced in the streets with my friends.  Different candy stores pulled out their jukeboxes and dancing would go on till the wee hours of the morning.  All the rules went out the window during the feast.  I remember one time joining in a huge circle dance (the cross town bus waited until we were finished.  The driver was a neighborhood guy) to the song, That’ll be the Day.

By anyone’s standards we were poor.  We lived in the slums.  However, no one can ever claim to have had the fun that those two magical weeks brought to  the steaming sidewalks of summer in East Harlem.


Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “The Feast

  1. James

    May 20, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Very nice bring back memories and crime was not as bad, in those days you can leave your house without locking the doors. Keep writing your doing great.

    • MsSopia

      May 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm

      Crime was what it was, but certain people were off limits. Criminals didn’t harm kids or old people. No such restrictions today, unfortunately.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Attila Ovari

Loving Life and Inspiring Others

Dear Ms. Sopia,

An advice and discussion page

The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

Here and now, with all of it.

J T Weaver

And in the end the love you take, is equal to the love you make. -- The Beatles


Fact and fiction from the head and heart.


Howdy! We're the largest independent bookstore in Texas. This is our blog.

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Treasures of Life

Musing about people, businesses and social media

Scattered Pictures

Random Memories and Stories; Past and Present

Arzooman Editorial Services

Editing, writing, marketing, Websites


Just another site

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: