Balancing religious tradition with a fun-filled family environment, the Hoboken Italian Festival returns this week with a host of activities that everyone can enjoy, no matter what their religion or ethnic background.
"We welcome you to our Mofettese hospitality. Everyone is Italian for these four days," said Feast Committee President Paolo DeSario about this year's festival.
The Hoboken Society of the Madonna dei Martiri has been hosting a feast honoring the Madonna of Martyrs for the past 77 years. Now called the Hoboken Italian Festival, the festival will be held from Thursday, Sept. 4 through Sunday, Sept. 7 in Sinatra Park, on Hoboken's northeastern riverfront. The Feast of the Madonna of the Martyrs, or La Festa di Madonna dei Martiri, will be celebrated with the Blessing of the Fleet on Saturday, Sept. 6 (see the event listing for specific times).
This year's festival is scheduled to include rides, fireworks, music and a bazaar of vendors selling everything from fresh prickly pears to kitchenware. The streets will be decorated with lights and people from all over to join in the celebration.
"Each year, we work on improving the festival, making sure we keep what people love while introducing new facets of entertainment," said the Feast Committee Vice President Greg Gallo.
Six hundred years of history
In addition to fun and games, the festival also celebrates a venerable Italian pious tradition. The festival started more than 600 years ago in the fishing town of Molfetta, Italy. It is held there each September.
Molfetta is a commercial city and the major fishing port in the lower half of the Adriatic Sea. The town has always had a special relationship with the sea; with its 68,000 inhabitants, it is not uncommon to see countless fishing boats moored against the quays in the port.
Ever since 1399, a street festival has been held in the heart of Molfetta to pay homage to the Madonna. During that first festival, Italian artist Neapolitan Giuseppe Verzella's statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on two rafts equipped with sails and brought back by sea into the docks of the port. It was this trip that laid the foundations for the ritual of the Blessing of the Fleet.
The Blessing of the Fleet begins with walking the 800-pound statue of the Madonna through the streets to the river. There is a procession where the Madonna is carried by local fishermen and then placed on a fishing boat, which is sailed into the middle of the harbor.
While in the harbor, there is a small armada of local boats ringing bells and blasting their sirens in homage to the Madonna. It is the pinnacle of the town's festivities. The festival is a time when families reunite, and culture and tradition is passed from one generation to the next.
Seventy seven years of feasts
The Society of the Madonna Dei Martiri in Hoboken began over 100 years ago. A group of men who had recently emigrated from Italy decided to form an organization devoted to the patron saint of their homeland.
The Novena and procession of the statue in the streets go back to 1888. The street festival in Hoboken began in 1927 and continues to this day.
For more information on the festival, visit www.hobokenitalianfestival.com.