Make the most of those special times in your lives
“EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?”
STAGE MANAGER: “No. The saints and poets maybe...they do some.”
—Thornton Wilder, Our Town
The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, that venerable soon-to-be 147-year-old annual tradition that is part religious observance, part reunion and part carnival will soon return to the Mt. Carmel Festival Grounds bordered by Third Street, French Street, Pratt Street and the Mt. Carmel Lane portion of Tilton Street, the site it has been held for many decades.
What will that week mean to you? What will the days between July 11 and July 16 hold for you, your friends and your family? If you are a religious person, the big day will be the Feast Day, July 16, which is also the day of my birthday. That’s the day the Grand Procession of Saints rolls through the streets of the town: from Third Street, home of St. Joseph Church of St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish, to Fairview Avenue and its slight incline, to N. Egg Harbor Road, to Bellevue Avenue and back to Third Street where it started. It takes a few hours. It’s always a sight to see the faithful walking through the streets of Hammonton on July 16. A kind of hush comes over the town.
July 16 is also a big day in Hammonton if you aren’t religious. The bombs burst in air every hour on the hour, leading up to a huge fireworks display that night. During the day and evening, food stands run by the church, the Assumption Society and the Mt. Carmel Society are all swarmed with people, as is the carnival, with its rides, Midway games, food stands and attractions. The Sons of Italy Hall is open to the public. Everyone catches up with everyone else, particularly the younger group, and music plays into the night.
Other than the bombs, the fireworks and the procession, everything described in the last two paragraphs can be found from July 11 to July 15 as well. This weeklong event draws tens of thousands of people from throughout the area to Hammonton each year.
Now that you have all that activity in your mind, and what the week at the feast means to you, I want you to think about that same piece of ground the other 51 weeks of the year. It’s an empty lot. It comes to life as the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel or its shorthand names like “The Feast,” “Feast Week” or “The Carnival” for a handful of days each July. The rest of the year it is mostly empty.
The Feast Week is a special occasion that stands out because it literally arrives, is willed into being by the many people involved with it each year and then disappears, all within less than a calendar week.
The Feast Week and the other 51 weeks the lot is mostly empty are an amazing metaphor for those moments that come into our lives, mostly only for a brief time: weddings, births, graduations, first days on the job, vacations, birthday celebrations, retirement days, deaths and any number of fleeting moments that stand out in our memories.
Those standout memories are like the carnival coming to town, filling the day-to-day sameness of our lives—like the sameness of that empty lot that awaits the carnival during the 51 other weeks before it comes each year—with moments that matter. Most of us are fortunate to have more than one big moment a year, unlike that empty lot that hosts the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel!
Make the most of those moments in your life. Engage with those memories by reflecting on them often. Thinking back to the most important days of our lives—or noticing them as they are happening—can inspire us when we are going through the tough times, and they can also enhance and augment the good times.
Buona Festa, Hammonton. Be like the saints and the poets and realize each day while you live it, as Thornton Wilder wrote in Our Town.
Remember: Each day is a gift, something to cherish and be thankful to have.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.