The North End; Love it or Leave it? No, Just Love It

St. Anthony’s Feast

by Augustine Parziale

The summer of 2016 is quickly drawing to a close; the days are already growing shorter, children and their parents are preparing for another school year, and the hot, muggy weather will soon give way to the crisp, cool days of Autumn.

However, to those of us who call the North End home, the final weeks of summer can only mean one thing; feast season is upon us. These lively celebrations of Italian heritage that immigrants from the old country brought with them when they first settled in Boston’s oldest neighborhood over a century ago are still a welcome sight for a majority of the residents who call the North End home.

Lately, though, a small but vocal group of residents have begun to express the opinion that our feasts are more trouble than they’re worth and that it may be time to retire the tradition altogether. To the naysayers, the feasts simply exacerbate the troubles that plague all urban areas, especially one as cramped as the North End: noise, trash, traffic, the lack of parking, overcrowded streets.

As one might expect when a long-cherished tradition comes under attack, there has also arisen an equal, if not disproportionately strident, pushback against those who would discard annual summertime celebrations.

The prevailing attitude of these residents, most of whom are life-long North Enders whose parents, grandparents, and in some cases great grandparents also observed these holidays to the patron saints of various regions of Italy, is that anyone who doesn’t like the feasts should move elsewhere.

This posture isn’t without justification. A majority of those who oppose the feasts are people who didn’t grow up in our tightly-knit neighborhood and have no connection to the tradition, the heritage and the culture. Moreover, these individuals chose to move here because the North End offers all of all the conveniences of big city living with the ambiance and culture of a quaint European village. They knew that there would be trade-offs and inconveniences included in the bargain and were well aware of our summer tradition before they moved here.

Simply put, the slogan of many of us who would defend the old guard is, “the North End; love it or leave it.”

It is a message of defiance; a proud rebuke of these newcomers for their ignorance and impertinence. Again, it is justified and wholly understandable. It is also not the proper response to this grievance.

My cousin and I happened to be talking the other day about a recent well known and much discussed poll regarding whether the North End should continue hosting feasts. It was this very poll that had restarted the angry debate on the issue.

She had been looking through some old photos of her kids at St. Anthony’s Feast and it got her to thinking about our own childhood memories of the feasts and passing these traditions down to our own kids.

We reached the conclusion that we were blessed to grow up the way we did, with the people we grew up with, in the special place where we did and that the only natural reaction towards those who didn’t share that upbringing is pity.

It must be difficult to live in the greatest place on earth and feel like an outsider. To not know what it’s like to walk into the Saint Agrippina Society or mull around the chapel of the Madonna Della Cava and run into friends you haven’t seen in ages and pick up the conversation as though you’d had coffee together the previous evening.

I feel sorry for those who are unable to meet up with friends on some prime real estate on the corners of Hanover and Battery Streets to watch the tug of war and reminisce about things such as the time when the society members nearly dropped the statue or some other fond memory.

What else but sympathy could one possess for someone who would never know the pride of seeing her daughter or niece or the daughter of a best friend assume the starring role in the flight of the angel to conclude the Fishermen’s Feast?

How empty must it be not to have grown up in a place where you could walk into one of any number of open houses around the neighborhood during feast days and be treated as though you were in our mom’s living room?

And how could one harbor anger at one who will never feel the tug of nostalgia from holding his young son aloft to place the money calendar around the statue of Saint Anthony’s neck in the same spot your own father held you years before, while the majestic notes of the Roma Band playing Marcia Reale echoed through our canyons of brick, mortar and steel?

That’s not to say that the feasts aren’t with their downsides. Like the neighborhood that has hosted them for over 100 years, the feasts have change over the years and adapted to the times. In many ways they are much more like tightly marketed, over-commercialized street carnivals than the religious observations that our forebears intended. Many of the vendors aren’t even from the North End and have no connection to this place than the pursuit of a dollar.

However, that has never been what the feasts were about. They are about family and friends, a love of our neighbors and our neighborhood. Over the years we have accepted, albeit begrudgingly in some instances, and adapted to a myriad of changes to our neighborhood. The fact that we hold on to one of the few cherished strands that binds us all together from our earliest childhood memories throughout our entire lives and from one generation to the next, is more than understandable.

If, after all of this, you still can’t accept that and learn to love the North End for all of her beauty as well as her flaws, well then we just feel sorry for you.

And remind you that Beacon Hill is a nice neighborhood to live in too.

55 Replies to “The North End; Love it or Leave it? No, Just Love It

    1. Terrific article ! Millions of people visit the feasts every year and enjoy it ! North Enders of past come every year to see their friends and family . The city cleans up the day after like nothing happened . Take away the feast and you might as well say good buy to all we got left that keeps our culture and heritage alive (feast time is a happy time) in a time that celebration of life is most important. What’s next ? No st Patrick’s day parade no Columbus parade no gay pride no carribian festival no Chinese New Year No Christmas!!!!???? Really Beacon hill has nothing !!!!

  1. U ABSOLUTELY NAILED IT!!! This is the best article to ever be published on this site!! Love you Augie, literally brought tears to me eyes!! Proud to call you a friend and TRUE NORTH ENDER!!

    1. Thank you Alissa. You have no idea how much it means to me. Always happy and proud to call you my friend!

  2. So proud of my North End heritage and to keep it alive through the feasts,so sorry for those that complain and never knew this bond.

  3. Living on Hanover street between Commercial and Charter my whole life I was exposed to 3 feasts on back to back weekends. As a kid I would count down the days and plan my best outfits. I would look forward to having family and friends visit and would look forward to the $5 my grandfather would give us to play games with and buy a real raspberry slush!

    As I got older I was bothered by the inconvenience of having to move the car, the noises of the set up and breakdown of the vendors and the smell left behind that would sometimes last days. But despite all that, my life is richer for having been part of these traditions that you don’t see in many parts of the country. And to all those who are so bothered by these century long traditions I say go away for the weekend or just move, I’m sure there are many people who would be honored to have a glimpse into this beautiful traditon that spans generations and will for many more to come.

  4. Well said my friend, well said. Rich is our history and those who don’t share it are envious to have not.

  5. Augie, as the Co Chairman of the Fisherman’s Feast of Boston I thank you for taking the time and effort to defend our traditions.

    I don’t think most new comers to the North End really understand what the feasts of our patron saints mean to us and how much pride we have and the effort it takes to keep our ancestors traditions alive. It is a labor of love that only true North Enders understand.

    We take great pride in passing on our traditions to the next generation as it was passed down to us. Not just with the feast but the North End way of life. I certainly remember Bee sitting outside the bakery with her tray of pizza every day and I always got my slice and now I serve trays of your pizza to all the members of our society when the come to my yard with the Madonna and I would not have it any other way.

    Thank you again
    Kenny Palazzolo
    Co Chairman
    Fisherman’s Feast of Boston

    1. Kenny, thank you so much for the kind words. And thank you so much for all you do for the neighborhood and for keeping our traditions alive and well. It is because of you and the other society members that we still get to celebrate our heritage the way we do and will be able to pass these traditions on to our children and grandchildren for the next century and beyond.

  6. Beautiful article! Well written! Although I am not an original North Ender. I came here 29 years ago – to raise my son in a neighborhood like the one I was raised in. I was blessed to meet and marry an awesome man who is a native North Ender and we raised our son here!
    We are so rich with the simple things our North End offers us.

    And you are so right. I feel sorry for all those who are against the traditions/culture that made this one of the Best places to live in Country!!! They need to slow down and enjoy what life has to offer!

  7. Proud of this story~~very well said !!! But more-so I am so proud of the fact that I am one of the lucky ones that do still live here~~~never left~~~plan to die here~~~and have a three (3) generation history of family who lived here also !!!!


    1. It’s not the feasts that make me want to move (I loved the feats and traditions when I moved to the neighborhood!) it’s attitudes like yours, be more welcoming! Invite the non “NE lifers” to learn more about your traditions! Not all of us young professionals are disrespectful drunks, but your tone and attitude is disheartening

  9. Wonderfully said! Tradition is the glue that binds the generations. In this day of neutralizing everyone’ heritage it is so refreshing to see the Italian community celebrate theirs!! These feasts have been going on for generations. You knew that when you moved in!!

  10. Wonderful article, well done!! Blessed to live in this neighborhood and be a part of tradition! #17yrsandcouting

  11. When you lose traditions you lose your heritage what made you, You. I grew up in the North End and tell everyone I Meet . The North End is the way it is because of the people who called it home.
    The place you can walk the streets without fear or apprehension. It was and is a special place . It is sad that some people don’t have that special memory or connection to a place. But I am sure the people who do celebrate will be happy to share their heritage with you.
    You can become part of the neighborhood and embrace the charm that is The North End.

  12. Perfecto! This is exactly the reasons for the last 8+ years I have marched all day with every feast photographing them. To preserve the memories and traditions that most people just don’t understand.

  13. I think no outsider would ever understand the wonderful childhood we had growing up there. We were always safe and someone was always there to help you. The St. Anthony feast is always the place to go to meet up with friends who come from all over the state .It’s always the outsiders that want to change things. Like you said if they don’t like it they can move elsewhere.

  14. Beautifully, and accurately stated Augie. As a relocated resident myself there is nothing better than bringing my daughters down to the festivals. Watching them put the calendars on the statues the way I watching them put the calendars on the statues the way I have at their age. Seeing family at their stands, and catching up with friends that we’ve had since grade school. It’s a beautiful tradition, and we are truly blessed to be a part of it.

  15. Superbly written! I’m sure your parents are so proud of their children, as they should be! I know my uncle Mike, who considered you all like nephews, would be too, had he still been w/us to read this! And you know what he’d say!!! Lol God bless your writing skills!! I also think it was nice of you to consider the people who didn’t get the chance to grow up in such a great tight knit community such as ours, even though they hardly gave us a thought when they decided, it’s time we stop our traditions!! Bravo Augie!

  16. Well written from a TRUE North Ender!!! I grew up in the North End and my family is a major part of the Madonna Della Cava Society I even dressed up as an Angel as a boy to march with the Saint so I hold the feast dear to my heart. I have also lived in many other cities like Miami and Austin and when people ask were I am from I say Boston the North End because there is a difference being from Boston and being from the North End we are a unique and special people. Also when people hear I am from the North End they will tell about the time they visited Boston and the best part was the North End especially the Feast so theses traditions are dear to our hearts but are memories for visitors that happen to visit during one the feast weekends. The Feast are hear to stay there used to be one every weekend starting in June imagine what the New Comets would have said about that. Stop complaining and enjoy. NEP!!!!

    1. Thanks buddy. Missed seeing you this year but I know wherever you are you’re always representing the North End with pride. NEP for life buddy. Love ya!

  17. Not only are the feast so well loved by North Enders, but, they are also well regarded and loved by many in the outer Boston communities which makes it a universally loved Bostonian tradition.

  18. Augie, thank you, thank you, thank you. In my family there are three generations of Saint Anthony club members, and in some members families four or five going back to 1919 when this great tradition was brought here by our founders. It truly is a labor of love to keep all these traditions alive in this day and age. On Sunday afternoons in June,July and August, there is no better feeling than watching all our brother societies bring their Saint to our club doors. When I see all the children marching with their parents, as I did with mine, I am more confident than ever that these great feasts will be here for a long time. Thank You again Augie.

    1. Thank you so much Jerry, for all that you do. You and your family will always have a special place in my heart and we all know it’s guys like you that make our neighborhood the special place that it is.

      1. Again Augie thank you, Sheila and I feel the same way about your family. It’s families like yours that make the North End so great.

  19. Just think of the size of this neighborhood,it’s uniqueness it’s impact on the city of Boston economically and historical importance it has to the entire United States people have been coming as tourist for as long as I could remember buses with motors running on Hanover St. Maybe fifthy a day six days a week monoxide residue on the bricks of our buildings.We sacrificed for our neighborhood improved it for our residentsNow that it is so beautiful everyone wants in you didn’t want in when the fire escapes were exposed and clothes lines hanging from Windows how could these people live here I would here now for 600,00 you can,we gave the terrific restaurants, pastry stores gelato ,foods and Italian specialties you never heard of we gave and you took now the feast bother you it’s a Honor for You to be at Our feast.i didn’t punctuate anything my mind just running thoughts sorry Paul Passacantilli Sr.

  20. I couldn’t agree more. I wouldn’t mind it if they went back to the more traditional feast though! The carnival games, teriyaki, arepas, frozen drinks, BAD Italian food, etc etc… could all go away and I’d be much happier. I’d love to see more authentic Italian options for food from more local vendors. It would probably be difficult to pull off, but nothing worth doing is easy.

    1. exactly. the vendors should be the local restaurants themselves. it could be a “taste of the north end” sort of thing – which i guarantee you would bring in more visitors and revenue than ever. the idea of the feasts is very nice, but the current state of them leaves much to be desired. with the exception of the procession, most of them come off a very bad carnivals in anytown, usa.

  21. Great job and nicely put. It would be nice if we could eliminate carnival games, alcohol,etc. and go back to the way it was.
    We bought, seeds, ceci and similar items and only ate in the homes where everyone was welcomed and it was a wonderful, truly religious feast. My inlaws from Montefalcione always insisted we attend the four day St Anthony and St Lucy feast
    because it was that important to them as part of the culture of their town. We still attend as well as our children and their children. It’s important to us to re-connect with people we grew up with when everyone was just family.

  22. Historically, there is no neighborhood in Massachusetts as important to Italian Americans. It was in the North End churches that the newly arrived immigrants married and baptized there children, no matter what town was called home. Italian immigrants were not welcomed in the English speaking parishes and were literally told to go to their own churches, notably Sacred Heart and St Leonard’s. And so they did. They walked with children in hand from Cambridge and Somerville and East Boston etc.

    The Feasts represent ties to the homeland and are rooted in a deep faith, but also represent an outward and proud celebration of Italian faith and customs that were reviled by the Archdiocese of Boston.

    The North End represents far more than Italian cuisine. Many of the naysayers lack understanding of the historic significance of the neighborhood. It is not their history and probably will never get it unless you can reduce it to an App.

  23. So beautiful thank you well said my friend amen once a north ender all ways a north ender no matter where u may end up living when u grow up lol

  24. Augie,

    This gal who came to the North End 30 years ago next month, has embraced it all–dancing in the streets, the marching, the bands, the parades, the not being able to walk out the door without conversations and catching up with so many someones.

    Ending the Feasts in the North End is as ridiculous as ceasing the Sunrise/Sundown cannon in the Navy Yard.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  25. this reminds me of a story back in the 80’s ( or was it the 70’s ) a woman moved on prince street across from the church. unbenownced to her, the bells rang every morning at 6am. she complained to the church saying they were disturbing her sleep and would they stop them from ringing so early.the church said absolutely not. this is a tradition that’s been ongoing for decades. she took the church to court on the grounds of disturbing the peace. need I say more ? her name was never revealed for obvious reasons_

  26. Lived across from the church for three years in the late 70’s and those bells were loud! However, we dealt with it although it did wake my toddlers up!
    Part of city life…I often wondered why the bells stopped!

  27. Augie:

    You perfectly described the feelings so many of us have about the traditions and meaning of the feasts. As we close another feast season, I am thankful for friends, neighbors and supporters like you and your family and the many people who have replied to this post, who are a big part of continuing these traditions.

    As a member of the Saint Anthony’s Feast committee I know the hard work that goes into producing these celebrations. I see first hand the commitment and dedication of my fellow members each year. It makes us proud to see so many people attend the feast and pay homage to our patron saints. It is also with great love for our neighborhood that we continue to support other charitable organizations with proceeds from the feast. We have been immensely proud over the decades to help our churches, schools, senior centers and little league and more recently neighborhood movie nights and kid’s music programs.

    I also recognize that not everyone enjoys our celebrations, some don’t understand them, are of other faiths or don’t share in similar beliefs or find them simply annoying. I respect these positions as I hope they continue to do ours. I appreciate my neighbors, new and old, who are respectful critics of our celebrations. Those who do not wish to see the end of our time honored traditions, but are there to point out areas that can be improved upon, to make them better, safer and more enjoyable for all residents of our neighborhood.

    On behalf of my club we thank all who continue to support Saint Anthony and Saint Lucy Feasts, and welcome those who wish to share their ideas to make our celebrations more enjoyable for all. Thanks again!


  28. Beautiful piece, Augie, and it came right from your heart. I’m proud to have you as a friend.

  29. Jason very well said. The devotion to the patron saints our grandparents and/or great grandparents brought with them from Italy gave them comfort and belonging in a country that did not always accept them.. They worked their way out of poverty, learned English, educated their children, taught them love of country USA, love of family and every summer they held a festival bringing together family and thank. celebrate and honor their patron saints. We carry on this tradition with great love and respect for all our relatives that came before us.. As Jason put it so well, If there is an area that can be improved on please share your thoughts Thanks.

    1. Great article, Augie! My grandchildren love the feasts, and I still look forward to your bread and pizza every time I’m in the North End. You have been a good friend to my family for as long as I’ve known you.

  30. Augie and Jason summed it up perfectly, and thank you so much for so eloquently sharing your thoughts, here. It is a privilege and an honor to live in The North End, a TRUE neighborhood deeply rooted in history, TRADITION and camaraderie. The Feasts are a huge part of that, and are here to stay.


    David Marx
    North End Public Safety Committee Chair
    19-year (and counting) North End resident

  31. Augie, you hit it out of the park & the only thing remaining to say is to publicly thank each & every hard working man & woman member of these societies that make it possible to have this great tradition of the Feasts to continue each year.

  32. Very well and tastefuliy written sharing the passion of these traditions. Keep up the hard work you do. My Dad, Michael, Worked along side his Father, Alfred, and Grandfather, Joseph, at Parziale Bakery as a young man. He always told us about the Bakeries also on Fleet and Charter Streets. What a beautiful idea to grow up in this community of family first!

  33. As an opening disclaimer, let me share that I don’t hyphenate my ethnicity. I’m Italian. Stateside, it’s different than being from Italy, but it’s in your blood and impacts your rearing, life experience, how you handle situations and how you deal with life until the very end. I truly believe that we as Italians can drop the hyphenation without dropping our equal claim to being American along with all of our allegiances. After that, I grew up in the very epicenter of “Italian-American” culture in the most Italian state in the Union. I left it 24 years ago and came home from Boston as my 20 years there concluded slightly beyond those of Menino. My childhood home was recently sold off, and the home of my Uncle is on its way out, too. Both of our streets were populated by families with Italian names since those houses were built. My family lived in a town that was 98% Italo-American, so much so that my cousin in a considerable position of authority told the ACLU to get the f out of our city — uncensored — when they tried to take our Nativity off some lawn. Bastards should be focused on paying out those families and merchants who suffered during the Big Dig, but I guess that came later. My last name was a rare exception as my father was not Italian, poor fella, but luckily my mother realized her mistake fast, and I was raised under the right flag. But the name on our box was Italian.

    I don’t think the right response is to pity anyone. I assure you that, least of all, those who fight the Feasts are not going to envy our upbringing. Shoot, I don’t envy the upbringing because I had a massive house and green and pool. The North End is a pretty dense place. I hit forty and farted out with the whole thing. Whew. As for love it or leave it, I left it. As many who grew up in other places and in other ways might pity one of us, I prefer to suggest a fight.

    Still — Places evolve. Just as the North End was not always an Italian neighborhood, my hometown street has nary an Italian name on its mail. Same for my Uncle’s spot. The chances of a new wave of Italians following those past families over the Atlantic is nil. And the families from the North End that moved on are a sign of our prosperity and success as one of the best experiments this country ever took on. Our people came to define much of what we know as the Northeastern portion of the greatest land on earth. We have gone much higher and further than that still. I think the right response is to embrace the reality of change that has come with our success as an immigrant group and a culture. I also suggest that we keep up the fight with tradition wherever our legacy was started. It’s kind of late for that in my area, but not too late for the North End. The societies, Feasts, restaurants and other efforts can keep the vibrancy and flavor of the North End alive. As for all the pitied masses moving in, remember that many envy them for being able to afford the rents and mortgages; to hold the jobs that simply do not exist in the type and abundance in many markets–and in some cases, in no other markets. As for the one comment about sacrificing for the Big Dig, remember that taxpayers from coast to coast also sacrificed. They balked. In the end, we as a nation have to support what goes on in commerce centers sometimes seemingly distant from us and our wallets. Boston impacts the world, not just the country. The changes in the North End are a testament to that. And many of the original families and their ancestors benefit from that change. Consider that the economy here in RI and its provincial mentality and anti-business climate leave former places of Italian glory looking like someone shook a vacuum cleaner bag over them. Be at peace. Change is the only guarantee. Pity no one. But fight. Fighting for the traditions is the best way to keep them alive. And some of us so-called outsiders have also hoisted a kid up to pin a bill. And some of us have marched. And its time to drop the word outsiders, because the scales are tipping on newcomers versus old timers. When a person is called an outsider, it has the opposite impact of co-opting that person to keep tradition alive — when the traditional people are throwing stones in their faces. I highly doubt putting up the old highway would cure the transitioning nature of a neighborhood that has been many things since its colonial establishment. In no time in its history did it get a chance to just put up a fight to define it as something that combines its most recent tradition and its most recent changes. Now, it can combine its Italian history and tradition with its economic prosperity and gentry to form something better and lasting as opposed to just the opposite or erasing of the place of the Feasts.

  34. Great response , my family grew me up in the north end although I never lived there spent many good times there , my great gramother Sarah did all the flowers for all the feast an my uncle Jimmy was chairman of St . Aggrippina our family came from Mineo Sicily! Now I have been selling food at the feast for 22 years an it’s just tradition ! People say why do you do the small feast not much money because I am carrying on tradition to my kids to honor our heritage ! It’s like having a 2 nd family ! It’s in my heart ❤️ An when I say viva I mean it !! The north end would never be the same without our feasts and I am so glad the men an woman carry our tradition on for our kids ! Just a huge thank you to all involed an keeping our traditions alive ! ✌?️❤️?

  35. There is a lot of love and pride in all these responses, however, special thanks need to go to those of us who live right in the middle of the feasts and ‘tolerate’ these long weekends.
    The messes, bottles, cans, cigarette butts, papers, half finished meals, strewn on the neighborhood streets and around our buildings, needing to be cleaned up every day, the indiscriminate parking on the blocked off streets, by the people working the feast, the time and effort to get your car into or out of your parking area…and you have not lived until the ‘mother ship’ of the garbage trucks is parked under your windows for five days with the accompanying stench of rotting food and stale alcohol and 50 pounds of cinnamon poured around the vehicle to detract vermin and try to cover up the smell.
    So, enjoy and have a group hug, but remember to thank those of us who are glad to have the feasts, too, but welcome Monday morning with a sigh of relief.
    And maybe use the trash receptacles provided and respect others’ property and homes.

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