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By Brittni Henderson
Not much happens in March—except two pretty cool holidays with tons of cultural influences and social celebrations.
It’s one of those months that aren’t considerably pleasurable when it comes to weather—it can be really cold or it might rain every day. There are 31 days and not one of them is a legal holiday so there are no long weekends. Fortunately, there are two days that are special to many of us. Although we may not get these two days off from work, there are plenty of things to do to commemorate them. These holidays both come from religious origin, but many of us have created our own celebratory variations.
Smack dab in the middle of the month of March are St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day. Two days that represent two very important figures in Irish and Italian heritage. Both holidays hold a special importance to residents of Rhode Island because of the large population of Irish and Italians in this state. Irish and Italian Americans, and even some who aren’t, gather their family members and friends to observe these days in their own unique ways.
By the numbers, 17.9 percent claim Irish heritage in Rhode Island, reports the U.S. Census Bureau, making the clan the second most populous ethnic group, behind, you guessed it, the Italians who compose 18.4 percent of our population. So, for two days of the month of March more than one-third of Rhode Island’s populace is apt to be downing green beer and/or zeppoles.
Locally, by zip code, those claiming Irish ancestry compose 16.8 percent of Smithfield’s population with the clan strongest in Greenville at 19.2 percent of the residents. Italian heritage is claimed by 24.2 percent of Smithfield’s population. By the same measure, in Johnston, 13.4 percent are Irish and 49 percent claim Italian roots – the second largest in any American community; Lincoln, 14.7 percent Irish, and 16.2 percent Italian; North Smithfield, the Irish and Italians are tied at 14.8 percent
On March 17, Sue Mills and her family make it a point to attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade held annually in West Warwick. Mills’ cousins and uncle are members of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, a group that raises money for the parade every year. This has been life-long tradition for Mills, starting from when she was a child and extending into the lives of her children today. Although it may not be the most unique of traditions, Mills enjoys it because it’s always fun and family-friendly every year.
With shamrocks and head-to-toe green outfits raring to go, Kathleen Pari looks forward to St. Patrick’s Day each year, too. Pari’s mother’s side of the family is 100 percent Irish. Her great-grandparents immigrated to America from Ireland, so her family’s roots run deep. Her family cooks the go-to meal of corned beef and cabbage and she makes sure that she hits every Irish pub that she can.
Amanda Booth and her fiancé Joe Brown unknowingly started their St. Patrick’s Day tradition at a Boston restaurant three years ago. On what they thought was just a nice weekend date a few days before March 17, they realized that they were amongst a group of people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. After finishing their burgers, they decided to head to another bar in the area to keep the celebration going. At the time, Booth and Brown were newly dating, but now that they are on their way to becoming husband and wife, this day holds major importance to them. Every year, they repeat this tradition on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day just as a special day for the two of them. It symbolizes a day unique to their relationship and they look forward to it each year.
Two days after St. Patrick’s Day is Patricia Shaffer’s (a writer for The Smithfield Times) favorite March holiday. Shaffer and her family have been celebrating St. Joseph’s day on March 19 for many years. Both of Shaffer’s parents came from Italian families so the day holds major importance for them. Although this day originates as a Catholic feast, and some of her family members no longer follow this religion, St. Joseph’s Day remains a mainstay in her life. It also serves as a day to remember her late father Pasquale (Pat) Pisano who passed away about 15 years ago. One of her favorite parts of this day? The large round cream puff topped with whipped cream and a cherry—the zeppole!
Angela Marandola is fond of the zeppole, too. Marandola also comes from an Italian-Catholic family so St. Joseph’s Day is her personal favorite. Over the years, she has maintained a yearly tradition with her father that makes this day very special for the two of them. When she was younger, her father would always bring home zeppoles on March 19 and they would go out to dinner at Posillipo’s Restaurant in North Providence. Once she went off to college, Marandola could no longer spend time with her father on St. Joseph’s Day, so on the first year away, she gave him a call to wish him a happy day. He didn’t pick up the phone, so she left a voicemail. Every time her father started to miss his daughter, he would listen to her voicemail, invoking a yearly tradition of her leaving him a thoughtful message on this day. Even though she is back in the area now, she still makes sure she leaves a heartfelt voicemail on her father’s phone to keep the tradition alive. Marandola has a large family and loves spending time with them on other holidays, but March 19 is a day that she looks forward to each year because it’s just about her and her best friend—her dad.