Saint Anthony’s Day

June 13

Saint Anthony of Padua

Cities and countries around the world celebrate St. Anthony’s Day, from Lisbon, Portugal to Wilmington, Delaware, not to mention cities in Brazil, Mexico, Italy, and even India!

The Brazilians get the jump on the celebrations by commemorating June 12, the day before his feast, as Día dos Namorados, or Day of the Lovers, a Brazilian Valentine’s Day, in honor of the matchmaker saint.

St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195, so understandably the Lisboans claim him as their own. Like the Brazilians, the celebration begins the night before…

“When the sun sets, the whole town goes out to honor the saint with alfresco dining, grilled sardines with salad of peppers, irrigated course, with much red wine, and dancing to the beat of popular music…” (Lisbon at its Best)

In the morning, special services are held in the church built over the spot where he was born, and vintage convertible cars carry throngs of “St. Anthony’s brides” down the Avenue Liberdade.

Women write prayers and wishes on paper and tuck them into specially baked “St. Anthony’s bread”, a tradition that dates back to 1263 when…

…a child drowned in the Brenta River near the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua. The mother went to St. Anthony and promised that if her child were restored to life, she would give to the poor an amount of wheat equal to the weight of her child.  Of course her son was saved, and her promise was kept.” (Sardine Heaven: Lisbon’s Feast of St. Anthony)

The award for the most unusual St. Anthony’s Festival goes to San Miguel de Allenda, Mexico. There laborers originally celebrated May 17 as San Pascual Bailon (St. Pascal Baylon) Day, in honor of the patron saint of field and kitchen workers.

“To keep the paraders and observers separated, some paraders were dressed as scarecrows and their characteristic movements were described as “loco,” i.e., crazy. Somewhere along the way, paraders dressed as clowns replaced the field and kitchen workers, though the music and the dances stayed the same.” (El Dia de los Locos)

The popularity of the San Pascual Bailon parade overshadowed that of the more established San Antonio (St. Anthony), and the two festivities merged. Now the festival is held the Sunday after June 13 and is known as El Día de los Locos, or Day of the Crazies.

photo by Ronald Felton, licensed under Creative Commons

Fisheaters: Feast of St. Anthony of Padua

Lisbon’s Craziest Night

Italian Festivals in the U.S.

Book a hotel for St. Anthony’s Festival


Date varies. Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) falls on February 21, 2012


Scores of cities from Rio to Cologne host their own Carnival festivities during the week before Lent, but not many can boast a party that dates back to 1268.

In those days, the Venice Carnevale was frowned upon by the local authorities and the Church. The debauchery and gluttony of the celebration recalled ancient pagan rites that flew in the face of the austerity of the 40-day Lent.

The Carnival before Lent is kind of like the “Boycott Gas for a Day” movement. It takes the punch out of not consuming something for a day if you consume twice as much the day before.

But don’t tell this to the Venetians. The Carnevale is a symbol of the city. And the symbol of Carnevale is the mask. Celebrants don their “masquerade” masks and costumes for both outdoor and indoor celebrations. During Carnevale neighbors become strangers and strangers become friends.

Despite being the biggest and most famous Carnival celebration in all Europe, the current incarnation of Carnevale is only a few decades old. The festival has been banned numerous times by the authorities during its 800-year history, notably in 1797 when Napoleon conquered the Venetian Republic, and more recently by dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930s.

The Venice Carnevale differs from its counterparts because Venice lacks the streets required for the processions which are the main event of other celebrations. But Venice more than makes up for it with indoor banquets and masquerades and outdoor parties.

“…the whole town was transformed into a vast theatre, full of music, dance and festivities. The various ‘campi’ or small squares throughout the town were traditionally used to stage various events, as they still are today.”

Melanie K. Smith, Issues in Cultural Tourism Studies

Venice Beach Mardi Gras
Venice Beach Mardi Gras

Every Day’s a Holiday didn’t have the resources to make it to Venice or Mardi Gras this year, but we did attend the next best thing: the Venice Beach Mardi Gras in California, which as it falls on Saturday, is technically a Samedi Gras.

The word carnival — literally “farewell to the flesh” — refers to the period before Lent during which Catholics could still eat meat. “Carnival” has since come to mean any large communal party with rides and cotton candy. So the term “Mardi Gras” (Fat Tuesday — the day before Ash Wednesday) has been mistakenly used to refer to all the festivities leading up to the big day itself.

Saturday’s Venice Beach Mardi Gras featured locals in outlandish costumes, loud musicians, ecstatic crowds of bewildered tourists, and merry-making all around.

So really it was indistinguishable from any other day at Venice Beach.

The Bushman of Venice Beach
The Bushman of Venice Beach

I spoke with “The Bushman”, a Liberian who’s been on the boardwalk for ten years, and who shouted at passersby in his distinct African accent the same question many of us have been asking this Carnival season:

“Where’s my stimulus package!”

Judging by the amount of bills tourists tossed his way…he may have entered a new tax bracket.

See you in Venice!

Venice Beach Mardi Gras
Venice Beach Mardi Gras
Venice Beach Mardi Gras
Venice Beach Mardi Gras
Venice Beach Mardi Gras
Venice Beach Mardi Gras
Venice Beach mural
Venice Beach apartment building
Venice Beach apartment building

Venice Beach: California Carnivale

Originally posted Feb. 23, 2009

Ludi Romani – Roman Games

September 13


The Romans knew how to party. So much so that their toga ensemble has become the symbol of a decadent good time, especially in the “Greek” system in colleges across North America. Of course the Greeks didn’t wear togas—the Romans got it from the Etruscans—but we’ll let that slide.

Thanks to writers like Ovid and Cicero, we know that every month of the Roman calendar was flooded with festivals and sacred days for the pantheon of gods and goddesses. With one exception:


There were only two notable holidays in the seventh month. (September didn’t become the 9th month until the second century BC.)

On September 13th, Romans observed the Ides, the day honoring the Roman king of the gods, Jupiter.

But the Romans honored Jupiter every month on the Ides. The 15th of March, May, July, October, and December; the 13th of all other months.

The other September event was known as Ludi Romani, or the “Roman Games“.

Ludi Romani was one of the most anticipated and biggest events of the year, and in its heyday stretched for over two full weeks, from September 4 to September 19.

According to tradition, the first games were instituted by King Tarquinius Pricscus (Tarquin the Elder) in the 6th century BC, after a Roman military conquest. He created the Circus Maximus to hold such an event.

recreation of Circus Maximus
How the Circus Maximus would have looked

The Circus Maximus was constructed between two of Rome’s seven hills, Aventine Hill and Palatine Hill. At over 2,000 feet long, the Circus could seat upwards of 150,000 spectators, and more could view the Games from the surrounding hillsides.

The main event of the Games was chariot racing, or ludi circenses. These races could be far bloodier than any Ben Hur movie. Other attractions included boxing, battles with wild animals, and gladiator bouts, though these were all later moved to other venues designed for such events. (The lack of a barrier between the stands and the track didn’t protect spectators too well from wild animals.)

Originally the Games were only one day, then two: September 12th and 14th.

The Games were celebrated intermittently until 366 BC when they became “the first set of Ludi to receive annual sponsorship by the Roman state…” (The Roman Games: a Sourcebook, by Alison Futrell)

Three years later, ludi scaenici, or theater plays inspired by the Greek, premiered at the Games.

By the time of Julius Caesar the Games lasted two full weeks. After his assassination, Rome honored him…by adding another day.

Wild Ride on an Italian Superbus

June 2

Today the descendants of the world’s oldest Republic celebrate Republic Day.

Over 2500 years ago present-day Italy was ruled by a king with a superbadass name, Tarquinius Superbus, who inherited the throne, not through direct lineage, but the even-older-fashion way–by offing his wife’s dad King Tullius.

Servius Tullius had angered the Roman elite by implementing revolutionary policies that protected the poor and laid the foundations for constitutional government. Tarquinius and the king’s daughter Tullia, outraged at how her father was flushing their country down the toilet, led the conspiracy to assassinate him, ending his 44-year reign. According to legend, Tullia showed her remorse for the murder by repeatedly running over her father’s dead body with a chariot.

Tarquinius ushered in a new age of Roman reform, by repealing his father-in-law’s Constitutional decrees and maintaining the peace through violence, murder and terrorism. These halcyon days came to an abrupt halt in 510 BC. Just as Tullius’ daughter became the king’s downfall, Tarquinius’ son Sextus would become his, taking down not only his father, but the entire concept of monarchy in his wake.

The Rape of Lucretia

The unruly and loathsome Sextus decided it would be a thrill to rape one of the most respected and pious members of Roman patrician society. He told Lucretia, wife of the nobleman Collatinus, that if she refused to submit to him, he would have her killed and place her body in bed with a dead slave, all before her husband returned home. A fate worse than death, she would be disgraced for all time.

Lucretia gave in to the threat. But after the evil deed, she reported circumstances of the rape to her family. She then committed suicide to save them from scandal. The furor that arose against the king led to a revolt against the monarchy and the deposing of the whole king’s clan.

On these precarious beginnings grew the most famous republic in world history. A republic that only ended half a millennium later when Julius Caesar was elected dictator for life.

But that has nothing to do with Republic Day. No, the Italians celebrate Republic Day to commemorate this day back in 1946, when they elected to boot the House of Savoy, Europe’s longest ruling royal house, from power.

fascio-nating’ bit of linguistic trivia:

In 1922, after a series of riots and civil unrest, Italy’s King had appointed the strong figure of Mussolini, leader of the Fascist Party, to be the nation’s new Prime Minister. (Today’s word fascist comes from the Italian fascio, referring to a bundle of rods. In the 19th century the fascio was used by political groups as a symbol of Italian unity: the individual sticks of the fascio were fragile, while the bundle itself was unbreakable.)

The King assumed Mussolini would reign in the rebelling democratic and parliamentary institutions. Mussolini did indeed consolidate power, by declaring himself supreme dictator and doing away with any semblance of representative or Constitutional government.

In 1939 Mussolini and the Fascists brought Italy into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany in the hopes of rebuilding an empire–a mission accomplished by conquering King Zog of Albania. Mussolini met his fate near the end of the war. Executed by a Soviet firing squad, Mussolini’s body was hung upsidedown at an Esso gas station, where it became a punching bag for angry Italian citizens.

But his death didn’t ease resentment against the monarchy that had once promoted the dictator.

There were no names or specifics on the famous 1946 referendum. The ballot asked voters to determine whether the Head of the Italian State would be held by the Royal Family–the House of Savoy–or a democratically elected representative.

During this process King Vittorio Emanuele III handed over the throne to his son Umberto II. Umberto is called “the King of May”, referring to his fleeting reign. On June 2 and 3 a narrow margin of Italians voted for the final abolition of the Italian monarchy.

As a result of the referendum the king and his progeny were forced to leave Italy forever. It wasn’t until 2002 that this provision was overturned, and the son of King Umberto, Victor Emmanuel, exiled for 56 years, finally re-entered the land he once almost ruled.