HAMMONTON - The 141st Our Lady of Mount Carmel Festival kicks off Monday and runs through Feast Day on July 16. Hosted by the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society, the festival takes a full year for the society to plan.

The week will be packed with carnival games, amusement rides, festival and specialty food, a beer garden and live entertainment.

The festival will culminate July 16 with the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a procession through the streets of Hammonton that dates back to 1875. The festival will close with a fireworks display at 10 p.m. on that Saturday.

“The feast on the 16th is what it is all about for us. That’s really why it is all done,” said Frank Italiano, vice president of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Society. “Being on a Saturday, I sincerely believe it is going to be a banner year.”

The feast is open to anyone who wishes to participate and a large crowd of pilgrims usually follow behind the procession in an act of faith.

“It’s all faith-based. It’s the longest running Italian festival, and the procession has been around for 141 years,” said Italiano. “They are praying. They all have concerns and wants and needs or they are just praying for the well-being of everybody, especially now with everything that is going in this society of ours. You get people who are sick or people who are walking in the procession just to give back to their faith.”

Volunteers push statues of saints from Saint Joseph Church in the procession. Believers give monetary offerings that are pinned to sashes around each statue.

Italiano said the men from the Society who are walking and pushing return with some incredible stories. “It’s a really special thing and something to see for people who haven’t seen it,” continued Italiano.

Along with the people participating in the procession, crowds line the route. Many residents hold picnics and barbecues, and they often offer the tired walkers a cold glass of lemonade or water.

“Everybody in town has done a really good job of getting people out,” said Italiano. “For the past 10 years, the Feast has been really growing ... You see the resurgence coming up more and more. Last year the census data showed over 10,000 people were there. That pales in comparison to the 50,000 they used to have in the 1950s, but it is coming back.”

The procession begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at Third and French streets and follows the traditional route through town from Third Street to Fairview Avenue, Railroad Avenue, Bellevue Avenue and back to the church on Third Street.

Masses will be held at St. Joseph’s Church on Feast Day at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. (Italian), noon (Spanish), 2 p.m. and after the procession returns at 6 p.m.

The week-long festival opens at 6 p.m. daily and runs until at least 11 p.m. Admission to the carnival grounds is free. Enjoy unlimited rides during Family Nights on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with the purchase a wristband for $25.

The bright lights and music of the Amusements of America carnival rides combine with calls from game booths to create a carefree summer atmosphere in what has been called the brightest Midway in the world.

Food vendors, the main stage and shaded picnic tables will fill the lot next to St. Joseph Church. The Mt. Carmel Society will sell sausage and pepper sandwiches, Italian pork sandwiches, steak sandwiches, pizza and cannoli from its booth, commonly referred to as the brown stand near the society’s hall.

The entertainment schedule for the main stage includes: Monday, July 11: Jerry Blavat, 7 to 9 p.m.; DJ, 6 to 10 p.m.; Tuesday, July 12: Buddy Gale Bug Band, 7 to 9 p.m.; Wednesday, July 13: 6 to 10 p.m. WVLT Night, DJ Lou Costello, Live Radio Show w/45 RPM, 7 to 9 p.m.; Thursday, July 14: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Marilyn Monroe, Connie Francis & Rosemary Clooney Tribute Variety Show, 8 to 10 p.m.; Friday, July 15: Barbara Harris & The Toys, 8 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, July 16: Steve Silicato, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; Verdi Band, 8 to 10 p.m.

Entertainment also will be offered at the Beer Garden, located on the Mt. Carmel Society grounds. DJ Ralph D’Amelio begins nightly at 7 p.m. followed by bands at 8 p.m. Bands include: Juliano Brothers on Monday, Goodman Fiske on Tuesday, Good Blue Shoes on Wednesday, Stealing Savanah on Thursday, Torn N Frayed on Friday and Olde City on Saturday.

The Beer Garden provides a relaxed atmosphere for visitors to enjoy the festival.

“We have great entertainment throughout the week,” said Italiano, who is also the chairman of the Beer Garden. “It’s really enjoyable. It’s like a big backyard barbecue party style. It’s a great time.”

The Hammonton Feast Day tradition began at 232 Pine Road in 1875 when Antonio Capelli and a small group of fellow immigrants prayed in front of a painting of the Blessed Mother. Then they formed a procession in front of the home and prayed in thanks for a safe journey to America, a successful farming season and the blessings and good fortune they found in Hammonton.

The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society was formed in 1875 by Italian immigrants who were giving praise and thanks to the Blessed Mother for a safe journey and a successful harvest in Hammonton. It is an independent nonprofit Catholic organization and consists of members from each of the town’s Catholic church parishes and beyond. Membership is generally passed from father to son, but on occasion, membership is increased to include extended family members or devout Catholics sponsored by a member.

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