Date of Performance/Collection: February 2007
I recall participating in a festival just once many years ago, as a child, in Whitehall, New York, with my paternal family. Apparently, this traditional celebration on July 16 has been part of their tradition since my great grandparents immigrated to the United States. My informant said, “One of the greatest traditions that Italians brought with them was the establishment of the ‘Sons of Italy Society’ which all young men enrolled in. They continued to foster all the customs and activities from their heritage.” In particular, she described a parade that was part of the event, calling it one of the “proudest achievements” of the society. Marching through the village of Whitehall, people of all ages in the Italian community took part in the parade, which included bands and floats. My informant also mentioned other festivities associated with the July 16 event. “In the evening a band concert was held. Ethnic food was sold in various booths in an open field.” She recalled her favorite part of the event being the grand display of fireworks that was held in the late hours. She said, “It was the culmination of all working together to bring the best entertainment to all the folks in Whitehall and all the nearby communities.”
My informant associated this event with a certain Mass that was held on that day, but gave no other detail other than that it was a “solemn Mass” and that it was conducted by three priests and celebrated by three generations of family. More details about this celebration, its origins, and its association to the religious calendar can be found in a report from another informant on this same event, and in the annotation.
My aunt also participated in the July 16 festival (mentioned in the previous report) growing up. Her slightly differing recollections that may illustrate changes that were made over the years, or perhaps are just details that my great aunt forgot or left out. My informant, my aunt, also provided some information on the festival’s name and association with the Catholic church.
According to her, the festival was a three-day event, from July 14 – 16, called the Tritium. The church conducted a special service and benediction at night on the fourteenth and fifteenth, and on the third day everyone celebrated a feast called the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. My aunt said there were two bazaars during the Tritium when she was growing up. The first occurred on the fifteenth, and included food, fireworks, and a concert band. The second bazaar, celebrated in Mt. Carmel field in Whitehall, was a town-wide event and was more extravagant than the more local festival on the fifteenth. According to my informant, my great grandparents cooked and served hot dogs and sausage and my grandfather served beer at the event. There were other activities and games such as roulette, as well, and everyone wore costumes. Like my other informant, my aunt also called the eleven o’clock fireworks “the highlight of the summer.” My family (great grandfather in particular) also used the event to collect donations for a charity, the Mount Carmel Society.
The New Advent Organization’s Catholic Encyclopedia (article by Frederick G. Holweck:(http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/index.html) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10604b.htm) gives a detailed account of the history of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The holiday was originally established in the late fourteenth century to honor the victory of the Carmelite sect over an enemy sect. Throughout the years, it eventually came to be accepted as a holiday universally throughout the Catholic church.
Blood is only one aspect of ethnicity. People groups are held together by many factors, including language, lore, and religion. This religious festival helped to define and preserve an ethnic group in their new location. As many Italian immigrants were Catholic in the nineteenth century (and continue to be), celebrating their Catholicism also helped to affirm their identity as the Italian-American community.