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November 30, 2012     Post-Gazette
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November 30, 2012
 

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Page4 POST:GAZETTE, NOVL:MBER 2012 L'Anno Bello: A Year in Italian Folklore The Season of Waiting by Ally Di Censo After Thanksgiving, it seems that the Christmas season exploded everywhere in a burst of red and green glitter. I am not talking about the Black Friday sales -- I spent that day eating sushi with my fiancd and staying as far away as possible from any stores, thank you very much. I am talking about the plentiful reminders of Christmas that tantalize my senses wherever I go. Houses down my street have begun to string lights around their roofs and bushes, so that it looks like hundreds of little stars fell from the sky and dusted my neighborhood with a twinkling glow. Carols blaring from the car radio provide a perfect soundtrack to scenes of shoppers zigzag- ging from store to store, huddled in scarves and ear- muffs. I love wrapping my hands around a cup of egg- nog and inhaling its spicy scent before the velvety drink coats my tongue. Yes, signs everywhere point to the fact that Christmas is near. Sometimes the antici- pation can become unbear- able -- I just want it be Christmas Eve, the night of family suppers and opening presents, right nowl How- ever, I know that it is impor- tant to appreciate the wait before the holidays and afford it the attention it merits. This is the lesson of Advent, the special period of time that precedes Christmas. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christ- mas -- December 2nd this year -- and it is a time to prepare for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. In olden times, people fasted during Advent, though nowa- days the focus remains more on the anticipation of Christmas. In Italy, Advent signals the commencement of the holiday season with a warm and folksy fanfare. Christmas markets sprout up everywhere from small villages to major cities, lined with stalls selling decora- tions, toys and aromatic holi- day treats, while street per- formers entertain the shop- pers. Bagpipe musicians called zampognari descend from the hills and wander through the towns playing their instruments, their melodies announcing the arrival of the Christmas sea- son for many Italians. Fi- nally, presepi, or Nativity scenes, make their way into homes, churches and village squares. Presepi are the dominant Christmas symbol in Italy, as they are said to have been created by one of the country's most famous saints, St. Francis of Assisi. Some towns have living presepi where actors rather than statues assume to role of the Holy Family. My father tells me that when he was a boy he helped his parish in Sulmona build a huge presepio that would have filled most of our living room, replete with moss and run- ning water! Here in the United States, my fianc&s kin celebrates Advent in a cozy, family-oriented man- ner. Each day of Advent, they light a candle on their Ad- vent wreath, attach an orna- ment on a homespun felt Christmas tree decoration, and read an appropriate Bib- lical passage together. This year, I will bake several cookies throughout Advent, wrapping my kitchen in a delectable Christmas scent. All of these activities, Ital- ian and American, remind us that we should concen- trate on enjoying the days before Christmas rather than hopelessly waiting for the holiday to approach sooner. The Season/Ho ! Ho / Hv / St. Agrippina DiMine Benefit society 18th Annual Christmas Program for North End Children Only SANTA CLAUS IS COMING WITH GIFTS FOR ALL THE NICE BOYS & GIRLS. on Sunday, December 9th from 12:00 to 2:00 pm at St. Agrippina's Chapel at 459 Hanover Street "k All who wish to attend please call 617-363"2678 between November 19 and December 3rd. To confirm you must supply your child's name, age, gender, address and phone number so that we can report to Santa's elves. -t Please, you must confirm no later than December 3rd.Aa children 10 and under will receive a picture with Santa and a gift. Children must be present & accompanied by an adult.Also: Face Painting, Balloons, Characters, Gift Bags. Please Bring a Camera.* 9c Saint Agrippina's Christmas Program is for North End Residents Only. -k -k -k -k -k -A- -k -k -k -k -k -k -k -A- Don't m/ss seee g "Santa C/aus" "VIVA ST. AGRIPPINA" ' JUST A MERRY GOOD TIME God B/ess Amer In the midst of Advent comes a quaint holiday that presages the larger Christ- mas festivities to come. St. Nicholas's Day, which is December 6th, honors the bishop from Myra, now in modern-day Turkey, who served as the inspiration for our contemporary Santa Claus. Because St. Nicholas was renowned for his gener- osity, this holiday, instead of Christmas, functions as the day when children receive presents in some countries. In Central Europe, children leave their boots outside on the eve of St. Nicholas's Day to find them filled with sweets and small gifts tile next morning. My maternal grandmother, who grew up in the border of the Apulia and Basilicata regions in Italy, knows the saint as St. Nicholas of Bari. The relics of the saint were trans- ported to this city in Apulia during the Middle Ages and my grandmother remem- bers large processions hon- oring St. Nicholas taking place on his feast day. Since I am a fan of celebrating all holidays, no matter how small, I have started some of my own St. Nicholas Day traditions. I always bake my eggnog cake on this day and enjoy the way it tastes creamy and festive, just as the holidays should. My fiance's family blesses and distributes candy canes on this day, a small teaser of the Christmas delicacies to come. As such, St. Nicholas's Day is a holiday that tempers our anticipation towards Christmas by providing us with enough feasting and celebration to tide us over. I know that Christmas is a holiday that inspires so much excitement and joy. However, Advent teaches us that the days preceding Christmas brim with their own pleasures and sur- prises. Advent teaches us to be patient, for if we decide to simply rush into things, we may miss exciting events that are transpiring around us all the time. From the markets that dot Italian villages to the sight of candles flickering in the darkness, the holiday sea- son offers many rewards to those us who enjoy every moment of it. There is a charm and wonder to eagerly counting down the days un- til Christmas and that's why holidays like St. Nicholas's Day delight us with small- scale previews of what is to come. Waiting carries its own satisfactions, though, as we realize that Christmas would not be so jolly if not for our anticipation for its ar- rival. In a season where it is all too easy to get swept up into commercialism and stress, the virtue of patience is as refreshing as a slice of eggnog cake. Ally Di Censo is a Graduate Student in History at the Uni- versity of Massachusetts Bos- ton. She appreciates any com- ments and suggestions about Italian holidays and folklore at adicenso89@gmail.com. by Sal Giarratani The Cocoanut Grove Fire Stayed with My Father Forever I was born six years after it happened and remem- bered my father often telling me his memories of Novem- ber 28, 1942, the night of the devastating Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston's Theater District that killed 492 people. It remains one of the most deadly fires in U.S. history. Many people alive then never forgot the name of the busboy, Stanley Tomaszewski, who report- edly started the fire acci- dently. As he said after the fire, "I couldn't see the bulb and I struck a match and put it out and then I stepped away. Then all of a sudden the palm tree seemed to take fire. I tried to put it out with my hands." However, he couldn't and the whole night- club seemed to go up in flames in seconds causing widespread panic as patrons tried to flee the scene. I re- member my father telling me it was reported that some of the doors were chained to prevent folks from sneaking in without paying and the club's revolving doors turned into a deathtrap as folks were pushing it from both sides trapping all inside the place. My father always thought the 16-year-old busboy was turned into a scapegoat since the place in hindsight was a catastrophe waiting to happen. Decorations for Thanksgiving were hanging up all over the place and nothing was fire retardant. The flames spread like a wildfire in a forest of paper and plastic. The death toll was horrific but could have been worse had t3oston Col- lege won their game with Holy Cross that day. My fa- ther was only one of a num- ber of people over the years who shared this nightmare with me. There was Monsi- gnor George V. Kerr, pastor of St. Francis de Sales par- ish in Roxbury where I graduated grammar school in 1962, who was at the club that fateful night. Kerr played on that B.C. football team that lost that year. He was a survivor of the fire and said things would have been far worse had B.C. won the game as more students from the college would have been celebrating there that night. I also remember Reverend Francis d. Gilday, rector at the Immaculate Conception on Harrison Avenue across from city hospital, doing a sermon about that fire in 1972. Father Gilday, the hospital chaplain that night, remem- bers going from gurney to gurney giving last rites to the victims who didn't make it. He said it felt endless and he felt so helpless but pushed himself over and over again to get through the or- deal. Like Kerr, Gilday car- ried that fire with him to his death. My father had his own story. He was a brand new orderly at Boston City Hos- pital that night at the begin- ning of his long career work- ing at the hospital. He told me what I had read about the fire and put it into personal perspective. There were so many victims that officials had to divide them up. Half went to Massachusetts Gen- eral Hospital and the other half to Boston City Hospital. I am sure the images were the same at either destina- tion as so many bodies kept piling up for overworked medical folks. My father told me the police were comman- deering any kind of vehicles they could to take the bodies of the victims to either hos- pital. There weren't enough ambulances in the city to handle anything of this proportion. Delivery trucks, flatheds, mail trucks ... any- thing on four wheels. According to some survi- vors, as the firefighters entered the place patrons started fighting them for the axes to break open locked windows. Folks were holding back without realiz- ing they were there to res- cue them. It was reportedly a really disgusting scene of panic. Logic and calm go out of you when you are facing death squarely in the face. It is amazing anyone sur- vived that night. The flames reportedly were chasing at the heels of those fleeing. Their only hope was to out- run the flames. Most didn't. My father always remem- bered the awful details of this tragedy. He was waiting at his job for the horror to come there and remem- bered the bodies piled up in the tunnels of the hospital and he remembered the smell of decaying flesh. It was like a bad nightmare that just kept going for him. The only thing he said that kept him on his feet was the constant door opening at the accident floor delivering h yet more victims, most be- yond help. He said he never saw so much death face him so quickly. Lots of things changed be- cause of that fire. Doors could no longer be locked at nightclubs to prevent free- loaders. Revolving doors were replaced. Materials were used for decorating that would not go up in flames. Club owners could not over- pack their venues. Doors could no longer open in but only out. Treatment of burn victims improved because of that night. Good things come out of it all but a tremendous price was paid for this new knowledge. My father worked over 36 years as a medical worker and the worst night of his entire career took place on November 28, 1942. It was the worst night ever for many, those that cared for the victims, those that lost (Continued on Page 12)