Joe Piscitelli was only 11 years old in 1942, but he says he’ll never forget that it was the only year the annual Feast of the Assumption in Westbury did not take place outdoors.
Because of blackouts related to World War II, Piscitelli said the feast was moved indoors. That same year, the Maria SS. Dell’Assunta Society, which hosts the festival, was also denied a permit to hold its annual Aug. 15 procession through the streets of Westbury.
Piscitelli, a past president and 51-year member of the society, said the war had brought out an anti-Italian sentiment in some Americans, including local residents, and that prompted the village to deny the permit since the feast has its roots in Italy.
Still, to keep the tradition alive, Piscitelli, 81, of Herricks, said the society’s members marched anyway, using the sidewalks instead to carry banners and a statue of Mary along the 4.5-mile route.
On Thursday, a four-man team upheld this practice. Following a mass at Saint Brigid's Church on Post Avenue, they placed the statue on their shoulders and paraded it to the parking lot of the parish school on Maple Avenue, where the feast was taking place.
To keep the feast going for the past 103 years, takes “a lot of hard work,” said Mary Ann DiGuiseppi, the society’s current president.
“We made 1,646 meatballs, 44 trays altogether, and we’re down to eight trays,” DiGuiseppi said Sunday evening, the final night of the five-day feast.
From Wednesday to Sunday, DiGuiseppi estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 people attended the feast. They enjoyed rides, games, fireworks, live music, raffles, shopping and plenty of Italian food.
“We’re known for our meatballs, eggplant, pasta fagioli, linguine with clam sauce and pastries,” added DiGuiseppi, 68, a Westbury native who now lives in Farmingdale.
When asked what the best part of the feast is, Kelly Mandart, 44, who grew up in neighboring Carle Place, pointed to the tent where many of the society’s 150 members were serving dishes they prepared.
“We like the meatballs, the eggplant and the zeppoles,” said Mandart, who has attended the Feast of the Assumption in Westbury more than 30 times in her life.
She now lives in Saratoga Springs, but came Sunday with her family including her 7-month-old twins, Lauren and Timothy, her brother, Kevin Mandart, and his 1-year-old twins, Heidi and Joseph.
Their mother, Geri Mandart, a Westbury native, calculated that she’s been attending the annual feast for half of its 103-year history.
“It’s a Westbury tradition,” she said, “But this is my first time coming as a brand new grandmother.”
DiGuiseppi said all proceeds from the event would be donated to charities including Saint Brigid’s Church, a local reading program and victims of the recent tornado in Moore, Okla. She said $500 will be sent directly to the Moore Fire Department’s Santa Express program, which typically provides Christmas gifts to less fortunate children, but is focusing this year on families impacted by the tornado.
Piscitelli added, “We try to donate to where people are going to get help.”