Folk Festivals

Folk Festivals

See: FOLKLIFE, Italian Folklife in Los Angeles: Introduction
See: ART & ARCHITECTURE, Folk Art & Architecture: Public Folk Art & Architecture
See: CLUBS, ASSOCIATIONS & SOCIETIES, Religious Associations, Patron Saint Societies

Celebration: Patron Saint Days, Harvest Festivals, Heritage Festivals

Religious Feste: Patron Saint Days. St Peter's Italian Church in Los Angeles and Mary Star of the Sea Church in San Pedro are the main foci of religious celebrations among Italians, but the Italian Catholic Federation could help locate others (See: RELIGION) in churches with a strong Italian presence. Since both have banquet facilities (Casa Italiana at St. Peter's), they also provide the space for the important social element of the religious festa. Many of the regional and town groups celebrate their patron saint's day in a typical pattern of: mass, street procession, dinner or other social event. Since Pugliese associations tend to center on their patron saints (replicating the Apulian model of lay confraternities), it is not surprising that a high proportion of the religious feste held at St. Peter's are Pugliesi.

From the IOHI Archives: "The Apulian Population at St. Peter's Italian Church, Los Angeles," Molly Hoff, UCLA student project, June 15, 1999 [Includes: 1) 30-page typescript, essay, release forms, tape transcript, appendices, fieldwork data sheet; 2) 2- 90-minute audio cassette tapes: a) interview with Cecilia and Mike Foschetti, June 1, 1999; b) interview with Donna and Johnny Angiuli, June 1, 1999]

Saint Peter's Church, Los Angeles. Italian tradition is very rich in celebrations of saints' days. Indeed each town, village, and burg, has such a patron saint who watches over it. Therefore, a saint's day celebration may also be the town's celebration of its heritage and history. Town and regional clubs frequently organize around a patron saint's feast. (For example, at St. Peterís Italian Church, the Pugliese ìCanneto Colony of the Saintsî (from Adelfia Canneto, province of Bari Puglia) organize the feasts of Maria Santissima della Stella and of San Vittoriano, while those from Bitritto (also in the province of Bari, Puglia) formed the Maria Santissima di Constantinopoli Society; while the Famiglia del Sacro Cuore di Gesu' Society (Sacred Heart of Jesus), hail from San Polo Matese (in the province of Campobasso, Molise). These festivities take on both religious and purely festive flavors. The dates listed below are the actual saint's feast day when in bold lettering, and in regular type when they are approximate (or could be confirmed in the Church calendar). The day of celebration however, varies and is normally held the Sunday preceding the patron's official occurrence. Some saints' days may not be found on the official list of saints because they belong to local folk tradition rather than the official church's recognized and sanctioned list of saints. The Madonna, for instance, has myriad faces, appears under various forms, and is celebrated in all parts of Italy. Frequently, of course, such local madonnas (and saints), took over where pre-Christian gods and demigods were worshipped locally, often retaining many of the traits and attributes of those earlier divine forms and traditional forms of devotion.

The year's events calendar at St. Peter's Church and Casa Italiana includes many saints' feast days dear to the Italian groups represented in Los Angeles. The fact that Church and Hall are in adjacent buildings allows liturgical and extra liturgical celebrations to be in close proximity. The festivities included below represent those which have been held in the past couple of decades, but like seasonal water courses, some years they appear and in other years do not. To confirm whether a particular celebration is being held in any year, please contact the office at Casa Italiana first (See: COMMUNITY SITES).

Feast of Madonna di Costantinopoli: March 8
Feast of St. Joseph: March 19 (See: CELEBRATIONS, Sicilian Folklife, St. Joseph's Tables)
Feast of Madonna della Stella: April 22
Feast of St. Anthony of Padua: June 13 (with distribution of bread)
Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: July 16
Feast of San Vittoriano: last Sunday in July
Feast in Honor of the Sacred Heart: September 16
Feast of San Trifone: November 10 (
2nd Feast of Madonna di Costantinopoli: November 8
Feast of St. Lucia: December 13
Feast of San Padre Pio: variable

Of related interest:

Index of Saints:
Saints' Feast Days:
Saints' Calendar:

Mary Star of the Sea Church, San Pedro. Feast days celebrated by the Italian community of San Pedro are the patron saints of the Ischitani: Feast of San Giovanni Giuseppe della Croce (St. John Joseph of the Cross), and St. Joseph's (March 19) and St. Rosalia for Sicilians. The Italian religious associations active in the church are the San Pietro Society, the Italian Catholic Federation, St. Joseph's Table guild, and the Trapetto Club.

Feast of St. Peter and Paul: June 29
Feast of St. Joseph: March 19 (See: St. Joseph's Tables)
Feast of San Giovanni Giuseppe della Croce (St. John-Joseph of the Cross): March 5
St. Rosalia: September 4

Organizers of the San Gennaro Festival
(including Doug DeLuca on the far left), a
newcomer on the local Italian festival scene, 2004

Feast of San Gennaro Los Angeles (September 19): Started in 2002, the Feast of San Gennaro, celebrated in late September, has become one of the largest traditional Italian American (heritage) festivals in Los Angeles today. The 3-day Neapolitan-derived feast day (which originally commemorated the annual liquefaction of San Gennaroís blood), is the latest Italian feast on the Los Angeles scene and began as something of a ìspin-offî of the better known annual New York-based celebration, which in 2004 celebrated its 77th anniversary, and which continues to attract thousands. In fact, a group of largely East-coast aficionados of San Gennaro (many in the entertainment industry) have replicated the feast here in Los Angeles, while adding local flavors to it, and giving it a Hollywood celebrity spin. The feast is hosted by two Italian American celebrities: Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla.

Bust of San Gennaro

Mass and a street procession take place at the Church of Christ the King in Hollywood, whose Italian priest, Fr. Antonio Cacciapuoti, helped dedicate a chapel to the saint. While the first (2002) and second (2003) feasts took place as a street festival at Hollywood and Vine, the 2004 edition (a tribute to Bobby Darin) took place at the fashionable Grove. In 2007, the feast returned to Hollywood. The festival is preceded by a ìPrima Notteî or ìopening nightî (in Hollywood fashion) for VIPs and anyone willing to pay a higher fee to preview entertainment, food, and celebrities, as a fundraiser for the feast itself and the charities the San Gennaro Foundation supports. For a history of the San Gennaro feast, its Neapolitan tradition, and an overview of the Los Angeles-based, three-day program:

ìIn addition to raising necessary funds, the group seeks to perpetuate cultural identity and solidarity within the Italian-American community and to propagate unity and cooperation among Italian Americans. All events put on by the Foundation are intended to embody the attributes of generosity and goodwill that define the Italian spirit. All are welcome to attend the St. Gennaro Procession and Mass, which takes place during the Feast weekend.î

Of related interest:

Italian Feast of Santa Clarita- June

Italian Catholic Federation (See: RELIGION): The Italian Catholic Federation is active in promoting and supporting Italian religious traditions (including St. Joseph's Tables in various churches). It also organizes pilgrimages to Mother Cabrini's chapel in Burbank (Mother Cabrini was the first Italian American saint, canonized in 1946).

Harvest festival, seasonal 'sagra'

A sagra highlights and celebrates a local food product and, more generally, the earth's bounty. In Italy, during the period in which each food (e.g., cherries, sausage, chestnuts, wine, artichokes) is abundant, it is often shared freely (or at a minimal cost) with the community. Italian traditional culture provides this model for collective encounters that are not religious, springing as they do, from agricultural rites outside the scope of the Church, but many have been overlaid by patron saint day celebrations. In Los Angeles, these seasonal sagre are necessarily rarer, although they have been obliquely present in a variety of forms.

Wine harvest (Fall). Wine harvest (vendemmia) festivals were once extremely popular as many Italians were involved the earliest foundations of the wine industry in Souther California. Although these ae rare today, vestiges survive. The vendemmia is celebrated by some of the clubs as a reminiscence of times past when Italians made wine at home, with winepress, vats, and barrels. The vendemmia therefore may still have evocative associations of a personal and communal past, even though today it can tend toward staged production, following a stereotyped grape-stomp a la I Love Lucy!. The Garibaldina in the past had an annual vendemmia in September (with stomping of grapes and tarantella), as did: Arba Sicula, Villa Scalabrini, and more recently, The Feast of San Gennaro. The greatest of the historic vendemmie however were celebrated at actual wineries , notably Guasti. (See: FOOD, Winemaking, Historic Wineries - San Antonio Winery.)

Fisherman's Festival (end of Summer): The Fisherman's Fiesta (sic), is a seasonal-occupational celebration which largely involved Italian fisherman (and other fishing peoples, e.g., Norwegians, Croations) in San Pedro and held at the end of September. Today it is a scaled-down version of what formerly included processions at sea of elaborately decorated purse seiners - still in the memory of many an Italian San Pedran. (See: INTRODUCTIONS, San Pedro)

Further reading: Charles Speroni, "California Fishermen's Festivals," in Western Folklore, 14 (1955) 77-91. Rpt. in: The Land Beyond: Italian Migrants in the Westward Movement (An Anthology of Essays on the Italian Settlersí Experience in the American West), edited by Gloria Ricci Lothrop, San Marino, CA: Patrons of Italian Culture, 2007.

From the IOHI Archives: "Fisherman Festival: San Pedro, California," Monica Seefeldt, UCLA student project, March 16, 2001 [Includes: 1) typescript, attachments, release form; 2) photographs, 3) 2 - 90-min. audio cassettes]

Carnevale (Italian Mardi Gras, Carnival ñ Winter): Movable feast (February), the day before the 40-day period of Lent begins (which ends with Easter)

Carnival had been an important festivity for many pre-immigration Italians. In fact, since Medieval days, it was considered a ìsocial safety valveî when disorder reigned, social inversions occurred, and licentiousness, and indulgences of every sort could occur. It largely maintained this function in traditional peasant societies. Mardi Gras, MartedÏ Grasso, a celebration of pork and pork products (sausages, prosciutto , and so forth)óthe pig being the emblematic animal of Carnival, is the last day of the month-long Carnival season, followed by Lent, the 40- penitential meatless period of restraint, and spiritual soul-searching. St. Joseph's Tables are a mid-Lenten reprieve from this general atmosphere of fasting, and a way of re-distributing food when community supplies were generally more meager (See: CELEBRATIONS, Folk Festival, St. Joseph's Tables). Carnivals occurring among early Italian communities followed not the traditional model, but rather the more refined masked ball model (of Venetian tradition). These grander festivities have been revived from time to time as sporadic dinner-dances, sponsored by specific associations. One of the earliest fundraisers for the Italian Hall effort took the form of a masked Carnevale ball, held at the Petersen Automobile Museum in the late 1980s.

Scampagnate or Picnics (Spring, Summer). Some town and regional clubs have annual picnics (or scampagnate ) which include food (sometimes potluck), games, and entertainment. The Piemontesi nel Mondo's have held a Easter-related picnic, known as Pasquetta (ìlittle Easter,î or Easter Monday), in past years. They are sometimes linked to Patron Saint feast days. The Feast of Saint Peter in San Pedro, normally features a June picnic.

Of related interest:

Margaret Hobbie, Italian American Material Culture: A Directory of Collections, Sites, and Festivals in the United States and Canada, Greenwood, 1992.

Italian Festivals in America:

One of the Italian Queens
representing various constituencies
in the Italian community (here
in the married category) at
the Long Beach Southern California
Italian Festival in 2003