Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guest Post: On With Tradition!

Every year around the first of July, I begin to hear Michelle (you know who she is by now) talk about “the feast.” It took me ten years of knowing her but this year, I finally got to experience the brouhaha for myself. My first two clues about what an event this was each year should have been that 1) Michelle comes from a large Italian family that originated in Naples, Italy and came to Brooklyn around 1900 and 2) her friends all told her not to scare me before I got there. Her descriptions were a bit vague though and so I came basically expecting some good food and sunburn (it was during New York’s “heat wave”). What I got was an old world style traditional celebration complete with music, dancing (of sorts), food, of course, many double-cheeked kisses and, with words used like Capo, “the Turk” and “Giglio” (pronounced gee-lee-o, not Gig-lee-o; I was soon corrected), the feeling I had walked onto the movie set of a Godfather movie.

Celebrated for 126 years now and formally named Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) Feast, it spans two weeks on the streets outside her church and is run by a number of men who have grown up in the tradition and have last names ending in many vowels. The feast celebrates OLMC, the name given to the Virgin Mary in her role as patron to the Christians living on Mount Carmel in the Middle Ages, as well as Saint Paulinus, a Catholic Bishop in Nola, Italy during the 400’s. It was the Nolani immigrants who populated Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

So here I was, faced with over a century of tradition, all the sausage and peppers I could eat, no sunscreen, and a quest to find the “Giglio”. Once I figured out that the Giglio was a statue, it was hard to miss. You’d have to be blind not to see the 4-ton, 65-foot tall statue, around which, on a platform, sat a full band, a singer and an Emcee. It wasn’t enough that the statue was built and admired. No… these people DANCED with it. How, you ask? They lifted it. 112 men, ages 16 to God only knows got under the cross beams of the platform and upon commands issued in Italian by the Capos, lifted it on their shoulders in various ways, walked with it and even raised and lowered it in time to the music played by the lucky band members who had little else to do but play their instruments, keep their balance and catch the Zeppoli’s tossed to them by the food stands. They did this for three hours at a time, three times during the two weeks. The children even got involved on the last Friday, having their own smaller version of the Giglio that, with the help from a few adults, they lifted and danced with as well.

All denominations have their own traditions from those here at Sardis or particular to Presbyterians to having communion every week in other denominations. I was raised Episcopalian and at the Eucharist each week, hearing the words “Do this in remembrance of me”  lent itself to my belief in the importance of rituals and traditions as a means of keeping Christ in my life.

Yet many traditions get scoffed at with the suggestion that because they’re ritualistic, they no longer mean as much, or anything at all. Tradition itself in ALL realms is being discarded as old-fashioned or dated and hence, worthless. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the newer, younger, non-Italian residents are trying to get rid of the OLMC feast because it disrupts traffic (it’s New York – traffic is nothing BUT disruption) and doesn’t fit with their contemporary ideals.

But I say on with tradition! Tradition anchors us. It gives us constancy and a foothold in ever changing times. Tradition may be as simple as coming to church each Sunday, participating in Room In The Inn or Rama Tutoring, teaching VBS or attending LOGOS. Doing them each week or year doesn’t make them meaningless but these things enable us to be grounded in the certain love of Christ in a world becoming more and more inclined to brush Him aside.

Heather Eddy, Assistant Director of Christian Education, is a guest post crowd favorite, and we look forward to hearing more from her this summer. It's rumored that she will be leading a Connect @Sardis series on Religion and Culture in 2014. If you've enjoyed her writing, you should definitely make plans to attend.

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