Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Feast Novena

It’s that time of year again in Jersey City, just before summer’s final act when, with each passing day, anticipation for The Feast gets higher.  Summer has been here for a while now, instinctually we know The Feast has to be close. Happens every August.  La Festa Italiana on 6th Street. Hosted by Holy Rosary Parish, it’s an annual celebration of community, an outpouring of food and fun that has been a tradition on these streets since the early years of the last century.
Although it is easy to overlook, the celebration has religious connotations; The Feast is in honor of the feast of the Assumption, a highly mystical incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Catholic faith, a holy day of obligation I feel is emblematic of summer itself ( see #9).  
The colorful urban street fair fun and the red, white and green Italian colors, the loud music, the reunions, the laughter, the kids running around, the tastes and smells of the food. All these images pop into the mind when you say The Feast. People come from all over because The Feast has earned a reputation for being a good time. The religious connotations are only apparent for those who want to see them.
 But for the organizers of The Feast, most of whom grew up here, were baptized in Holy Rosary, who agree on the decisions that make each year a little different – on what new vendors to invite, who should file permits with the city, etc., etc.  – the ones perform the dozens of nitty-gritty tasks and make the fund raiser happen – the religious connotations remain the central motivation of why they volunteer their time year in and year out.
Planning for each version of The Feast begins in September, a few weeks or so after final drawing and the last shot of Lemoncello.  But “The Feast” itself begins here, the first day of the novena. Novena means nine; nine consecutive days of prayer precede the feast of the Assumption on August 15th – this year the first day of The Feast opens on the Holy Day of Obligation.
 Novenas might be considered old school catholic spirituality but as everybody knows Jersey City is all about Old School. Well, parts of it at least. This is where The Feast begins, the first night of the novena. They gather at the church to say the rosary, mass and then special novena prayers to Our Lady of the Assumption.
The music, the rice balls, the lemoncello, all the things that serve as collective marks of this time year, rituals we go through to mutually remind us that we have indeed survived another year, our community is still together, still existing, still growing.  There are just a lot of people – a lot of Jersey City characters in one place for a specific period of time – whose names you do not know but whose faces you do and they are glad to see you and you are glad to see them because every year, you see each other here, on 6th Street, twixt Monmouth and Brunswick, at the Feast.  
The Feast begins here, with these people, Holy Rosary parishioners, gathering together every August 6th to begin the nine days of prayer leading up to the Feast of the Assumption.  There’s a quiet beauty about this simple and sincere expression faith. The commemoration of the holy day/holiday strengthens a sense of order to the years that accumulate in your life. Life is uncertain, chaotic. Work, love, money –  there are hundreds of reasons to be anxious. The sense there is some order to the universe provides some consolation. The Feast and the Novena before The Feast has been going on for a century or so here in downtown, a few more centuries before that among the peasantry in the mountains of Southern Italy. Everybody glad to be here, everybody glad to see each other again.
Most everybody at the Novena is involved with the planning of The Feast and it’s been hectic since memorial day or so, at least it seems that way. Like baking the bird or hanging the tinsel, it’s something you do every year.  And of course, for The Feast organizers, life just gets more hectic these last few days, the week or so before the street fair – and it’s going to be bigger this year than last, they say. But here, the Novena services, the organizational frenzy dissipates.  And with  prayers and communion, The Feast returns, begins again anew.

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