Annual Ocean County Columbus Day Parade Provides Flavor Of Old Italy

Citta’ di Agrigento of Sicilia, Italy performs songs during this year’s Ocean County Columbus Day Parade. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

SEASIDE HEIGHTS – It is a tradition of the Ocean County Columbus Day Parade and Italian Festival to showcase entertainment imported from Italy. This year’s 27th annual parade was no exception as two folkloric groups of singers and dancers took to the streets to entertain crowds during the Oct. 5-7 Italian festival and the parade.

This year’s groups included Tatarata who came from Casteltermini, a commune in Agrigento. The 50-member group used swords and drums as part of their performance. Citta’ di Agrigento of Sicilia, Italy performed songs and dancing numbers from traditional Italian culture. They wore traditional garb to show a bit of 18th century Italian history.

This marked the first time either group visited Ocean County.

Christopher Columbus made his triumphant return to the parade on a float. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

Unlike the last two years, this year’s parade was devoid of rain or gray skies. Borough Mayor Anthony Vaz who kicked off the event with a brief ceremony alongside with Freeholder Joseph Vicari on Oct. 5, was very happy about that.

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Later that evening Parade Committee Chairman Michael Blandina commended the work of John Giavatto, the International Relations Chairman for the committee who arranged for the two folkloric groups to be a part of the festival and parade.

Blandina noted that it takes the committee 12 months to prepare for the parade and that a small number of volunteers make up the committee who plan it each year. “This is a year long effort to raise the funds to bring these groups here and to put on the parade.”

Giavatto introduced the two groups as spectators watched from the streets.

The street festival featured various vendors many of whom sold a variety of Italian food ranging from sausage, meatball eggplant, pizza, pasta, cheesesteak, Italian hot dogs and espresso. Some non-traditional Italian fare was also available for purchase including crab cake sandwiches and Arepas, which are sweet corn cake patties filled with mozzarella cheese.

For Tom Blackmoor of Stafford Township the festival and parade are a fall tradition. Blackmoor sported a red, white and green cap as he held his sausage sandwich as he stood beside his wife Susan and his daughter Jennifer Cahill. The trio came to the kickoff event on Oct. 5.

“We come every year. We come for the food,” he said.

Members of the Renaissance Italian American Club of Manchester Township lineup as they prepare to walk down the parade route. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

“Food and the music,” his wife added.

Tom said he was half Irish and half Italian while his wife said she was half Italian and half Polish.

Their daughter said “I just enjoying hanging out with my parents for this.”

Dennis Filippoine of Lacey served as parade marshal this year.

“Every year we are faced with the difficult task of selecting one person from the many deserving candidates to serve as the ceremonial leader of our Parade and Italian Festival,” Screening Committee Co-Chair Phyllis Shindle said earlier this year.

“Dennis’s community involvement and leadership over the years in the Brick Township School system contributed to our decision. Especially for his efforts to bring ethnic heritage and culture into the school system,” Shindle added.

Nicole Hanrahan, six-year-old son John, and her sister Amanda Hohman of Jackson took in the parade for the second year in a row. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

The aroma of freshly made Italian sausage filled the air near the street fair area as the crowds eagerly awaited the start of the parade on the afternoon of Oct. 7. Among those spectators were Vincent and Maria Vincenti, who have a summer home in the borough. Both donned their Italian caps as they awaited the start of the parade.

“We are here every year. We come for the Italian music and the performers who come from Italy. I was three-years-old when I came from Italy to this country. I also love the bands and music played during the parade,” Maria Vincenti said.

Her husband added “This keeps the tradition alive every year.”

Members of the Brick Township High School Marching Dragons head onto the parade route to march down the Seaside Heights Boulevard. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

Nicole Hanrahan, six-year-old son John, and her sister Amanda Hohman of Jackson took in the parade for the second year in a row. “We came out as a family,” Nicole Hanrahan said.

“My uncle plays in a band. I like the music,” John said as he juggled a box of Dots candy and waved an American flag.

Not all the music was Italian. Members of the Ocean County Emerald Society Pipes & Drums band and the Saint Brendan Pipes and Drums Band of Point Pleasant brought along their kilts and bagpipes to entertain those along the parade route.

Grand Marshal Dennis Filippoine of Lacey joins his wife and daughter in marching down the parade route (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

Another fixture of the parade was Italian-American clubs like the Renaissance Italian American Club of Manchester Township and the Greenbriar Oceanaire Italian American Social Club of Waretown.

Each year, explorer Christopher Columbus (in the form of a costumed impersonator) is featured on a float which was sponsored by Carabba’s Italian Grill. This year was no exception and he and those on the float got a rousing round of applause as the float traveled down the boulevard.