Lent & Passiontide

"Some Italian Americans preserved the Old World custom of personifying Lent as an old woman represented by a doll made from a potato decorated with feathers and cloth. Each week the children of the household would remove a feather from the doll until by the time Easter came it was totally denuded. Then the doll was burned. "The climax of the Lenten season and Passion week on Good Friday begins a three-day period, ending on Easter Sunday, which condenses the previous seven weeks of spiritual concentration. Good Friday itself has been marked by religious processions, the most thoroughly documented being that of Maria Addolorata (the Virgin of Sorrows) in Brooklyn. Many residents of the parish of the Church of the Sacred Heart and Saint Stephen trace their ancestry to Bari in Apulia, where the tradition of the procession originated. They gather in the church in the early morning on Good Friday to await the priest and several formally attired young men, who will carry the statue of the Virgin on a platform through the streets. Accompanied by various parish organizations, the church band (playing funeral music), and any parishioners who care to join, the statue makes its way through the neighborhood, pausing frequently to permit devotees to pay their respects. As the procession passes their houses, people kneel to receive a blessing or join the marchers. Many have put up special decorations of flowers and lights.

"Shortly after the procession of the Virgin leaves from the front of the church, another group sets out from the rear. Bearing a glass coffin with a life-size statue of the crucified Jesus, several men set out through the streets on a route that will bring them into contact with the Virgin's procession when it ends at the church door. The meeting of the two processions (la giunta) climaxes the event, which is supposed to depict the mother's mournful search for her lost, now-dead son.

"Italian Americans in Brooklyn also process on Good Friday in reenactments of the Stations of the Cross, marked by black crosses at sites throughout the neighborhood. At each, the procession of parish organizations bearing their identifying banners pauses while a priest narrates the events depicted there, and some are enacted by costumed children.

"Such Good Friday customs serve as commemorative reminders of the events in sacred history which charter the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. They also allow participants a sense of imaginative identification with the happenings in the Passion of Jesus and the sorrows of his mother. The following day's activities offer opportunities for a final cleansing and purgation before the celebration of Easter. Purification on Holy Saturday may be domestic, as in the Sicilian-American custom of using the day to cleanse one's house of the devil, or it may be personal. According to Ligurian tradition reported in California, after bathing the face on Holy Saturday, one should recite, 'Flowing Water / Quench this ardent fire that courses through my veins.'"

Malpezzi and Clements, Italian-American Folklore, pp. 90-91.