It’s a Boston Italian tradition like no other!
From Thursday August 15th through Sunday August 18th, Boston’s oldest continuously run festival –The Fisherman’s Feast- commended in the North End for a weekend of celebrations, food, family, and activities.
The Fisherman’s Feast is an annual event that began in Boston in 1910 and dates back to 16th century Sicily.
Based on the devotion of the fishermen from Sciacca (Sicily) to the Madonna del Soccorso (Our Lady of Help), this year will mark the 109thedition of the festival. When Sicilian fishermen immigrated to America in the early 1900’s, they brought their traditions with them, which are now deeply in grained in both the North End and the entire city of Boston.
“The Feast provides something for everyone,” said co-chair Domenic Strazzullo. “It is a family friendly feast where we provide rides and games for the kids; beer gardens for the adults to relax (sponsored by Stella Artois), disco nights on Friday and Saturday to show off your dancing side; and free entertainment nightly.”
For Strazzullo, the Fisherman’s Feast truly is a family affair. He shares co-chair duties with his brother Louis, and his cousin Kenny Palazzollo is the President of the Madonna del Soccorso Society on Lewis Street.
“My involvement started when I was a little kid with my grandfather making sure I had a flag to carry for the procession,” Strazzullo reminisced. “I then became a member at 18 years old and slowly climbed up the ranks. When I was 33, I became the co-chairman of the Feast and have been putting our festival together and keeping our family heritage alive for the past nine years.”
Strazzullo continued: “Every year the Feast brings all of our families together, like a Christmas celebration. Once it is over on Sunday night, we consider it the end of summer and get ready to bring out the Christmas Trees!” he added with a laugh.
The Madonna del Soccorso legend is based around her power to provide hope, healing, and help.
In 1300, a young Augustinian monk named Nicolo Bruno lay bed-ridden, severely ill and crippled with a broken neck. One night he was awoken with a vision from a woman of radiant beauty who told him: “I am The Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca (The Lady of Help of Sciacca). I have come to your town of Sciacca to aid and assist the people.”
As legend has it, she then proceeded to tell Nicolo Bruno to get up. She healed his neck and cured him of his illness. Bruno devoted his life to spreading the message of the blessed virgin.
As miracles continued to happen in Sciacca, the town folk -realizing how fortunate they are- built a statue in honor of Madonna del Soccorso. Transportation of the statue was difficult, however, due to the enormity of its structure. Realizing they could help, the fisherman of the town got together and carried the sculpture from location to location. Till this day –as tradition has it- only fisherman are allowed to carry the statue.
On August 15, 1907, the Vatican decreed Madonna del Soccorso the “Patroness of Sciacca.” As a result, the fishermen hold a huge feast on the Assumption (August 15) every year, a tradition that now has deep roots in Boston’s North End as well.
In Boston, the Feast traditionally starts on Thursday when Madonna del Soccorso is moved from her home in the Fisherman’s Club to a chapel in the middle of the Feast. It culminates on Sunday with the spectacular “Flight of the Angel.”
After a 9-hour procession during the day, Fisherman’s Club members bring the Madonna statue home to North Street where two side angels on balconies recite an Italian devotion followed by the entrance of a flying angel from a third story window coming down from the sky to meet the Madonna del Soccorso. At the end, confetti rains on the scene in an astounding street celebration.
For the 109thcelebration there were a host of activities planned in addition to the ceremonies and parade.
Galbani Cheese sponsored a cooking stage featuring special guest chefs all weekend. This was highlighted by Chef Marco Sciortino preparing demonstrations and special creations for the crowd.
The 2ndannual “North End Best Meatball” competition was held on Saturday (August 17) from 3pm-6pm. Eleven of the North End’s finest chefs competed for the coveted “Best Meatball in Boston” title, which was won by Nick Varano’s family recipe and Cafe Strega.
There was also a wide range of entertainment from the sounds of street doo wop to disco to local talents, and -of course- the world famous Jersey Tenors who performed Saturday night (August 17th)!
In conclusion, perhaps Domenic Strazzullo himself put it best: “The Fisherman’s Feast is indeed the premier North End festival and is not to be missed!”
For more information on the Fisherman’s Feast please visit their web-site at fishermansfeast.com and follow them on Facebook @fishermansfeastboston.
All photos used with permission from the Fisherman’s Feast and taken from their Facebook page.