HAMMONTON - The 142nd Our Lady of Mt. Carmel festival opened Tuesday and continues through Feast Day on Sunday in Hammonton.

The festival, known as the longest running Italian festival in the country with the world’s brightest midway, is presented by the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society. It spills from the society’s grounds on Mt. Carmel Lane, onto Third Street and into the St. Joseph Church parking lot.

Evenings filled with family fun, carnival games and rides, food and live entertainment lead up to the annual Feast Day procession, which many believe is the highlight of the annual festival.

Patrons will gather on Third Street at 4 p.m. July 16 to embark on the pilgrimage of the faithful. Some volunteer to push the heavy statues of saints along the traditional route through Hammonton. Others walk behind the saint that has had the greatest effect on their lives while a growing crowd gathers behind the Blessed Mother in the pilgrimage of thanks.

Faithful believers congregate along the streets of Hammonton pinning an offering to the sashes of the saints as the procession passes by.

“The procession provides an opportunity to strengthen your faith and get a closer relationship to God through the intercession of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel,” said Frank Italiano, vice president of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society.

Feast Day Masses will be held 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. (Bishop); 10:30 a.m. (Italian); noon (Spanish); 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (after the procession returns).

“Festival week is special to so many people, including myself. It’s a ‘holiday week’ with July 16th being ‘Italian Thanksgiving,’” continued Italiano. “The town of Hammonton and our residents do so much to help keep this longest running Italian festival in the United States going. The society is so grateful for everyone’s support.”

The society works all year to prepare for the festival in an effort to provide a meaningful and memorable experience for all who attend. Each night features different live musical performances on the main stage and in the beer garden.

Performances at the main stage include: Jerry Blavat 7-9 p.m. Tuesday; Kharma Train Band 6-9 p.m. Wednesday; Bitter Sweet featuring Kenny Jeremiah of the Soul Survivors 7-10 p.m. Thursday; Bob Pantano Dance Party 6-9 p.m. Friday; The Barons 8-9:30 p.m. Saturday; Zach Taglioli and Rich Lalena 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday and the Verdi Band 8-10 p.m. Sunday.

Entertainment at the beer garden includes DJ Ralph D’Amelio at 7 p.m. nightly with these bands performing at 8 p.m.: Goodman Fiske on Tuesday, Stealing Savannah on Wednesday, Juliano Brothers on Thursday, Reign on Friday, Philly Heart & Soul on Saturday and Olde City on Sunday.

Food is also part of the tradition at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival. Be sure to visit the food court and the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Society food stand for favorites like sausage and peppers or Italian pork with broccoli rabe and provolone cheese.

“The festival continues to grow and gets enhanced every year. The amusements, the food, the entertainment, the fireworks get improved upon every year,” said Italiano.

The carnival opens at 6 p.m. nightly and closes at 11 p.m. The food stand is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the week. It reopens at 5 p.m. nightly. Carnival rides and games will be provided by Amusements of America. Get unlimited rides with a $25 wristband today and Thursday. The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival closes with a bang on Feast Day with a fireworks display at 10 p.m. on Sunday.

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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 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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