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Columbus Day: It Takes a Village to Make It Happen, but What Is It Really About?

Columbus Day Parade in New York: Discovering what the “celebration” really means.

by Marguerite Zappa
The Parade itself is merely the climax to a weekend of activities. The entire month of September is a blur of frenetic movement…The tremendous crowd of supporters waving their Italian and American flags will not be thinking of the Columbus Citizens Foundation’s mission, which entails a lot more than organizing this astounding Parade every year. The Columbus Day Parade is not only about a visionary’s hope of a free world, but about a community of immigrants, its role in building America, and the transmission of its heritage.

It’s Fall again and very soon the Columbus Day Parade will be upon us and right now, I am here to tell you about the behind-the-scene activity that goes into organizing the  Parade, the many other events preceding it that the general public never hears about, and the mission behind it all.

As the 75th Annual Columbus Day Parade makes its entrance on Fifth Avenue, enthusiastic men, women and children lining the streets from 42nd to 72nd will cheer the magnificent floats, the marching bands and the groups from here and abroad. They will enjoy the Red Carpet entertainment and the Maserati and Lamborghini cars and they will wave at the Grand Marshal, the Honorees and a sea of Columbus Citizens Foundation members. The tremendous crowd of supporters waving their Italian and American flags will not be thinking of the Columbus Citizens Foundation’s mission, which entails much more than organizing this astounding Parade every year. They will simply enjoy it.

The Foundation’s mission goes way beyond organizing this Parade, and it’s carried on all 365 days of the year. The CCF is “committed to fostering an appreciation of Italian-American heritage and achievement.”  The Parade is not only to commemorate a Historic figure, but for proud Italian Americans to honor one another and celebrate the rich culture and heritage they bear. “We, the Members of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, dedicate ourselves to preserving and enhancing the culture, traditions and values we were so blessed to receive.” The mission makes this clear, for as Italian Americans we have a torch to pass on, and this is one way of doing it.

The finished product, the Parade, is a vision of perfection, but the preparatory stages are many and time consuming, requiring the dedication and competence of the Columbus Citizens Foundation staff members, who work tirelessly to achieve the excellence of a flawless performance.

Children enjoying the parade from a float. Photo: Columbus Citizens Foundation

However, having had the privilege to fill the role of Assistant to the Executive Director of the CCF for many years, I can attest that this event entails more than just one day. Indeed, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that when this year’s Parade ends, we start to plan the next. The Parade itself is merely the climax to a weekend of activities. The entire month of September is a time of frenetic movement, with reservations coming in for the annual Gala, celebrated the Saturday just prior to Parade day; the Wreath-Laying Ceremony on Sunday morning at Columbus Circle; and the solemn Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Monday morning, followed by the commencement of the Parade.

The Gala, held for many years at the Waldorf Astoria and now, at the New York Hilton Midtown, begins this celebratory weekend. The American and Italian anthems are sung, acknowledging our great country, the United States in which we live, and the countless contributions Italians and Italian Americans have made to this nation. Men in tuxedos and women in luxurious gowns add to the decorative ambiance created by our own CCF members who work on the respective committees to create an elegant atmosphere, a fine dining experience orchestrated by our General Manager and Executive Chef, and the music, dancing and entertainment. A Silent Auction adds to the excitement of the event, offering an array of invaluable items for bidding.

As the festive evening wanes and nighttime descends, Sunday morning welcomes a more solemn occasion at Columbus Circle, where in the presence of the Grand Marshal, Honorees and other prominent figures, the Wreath-Laying Ceremony honoring civil servants is held under the auspices of the National Council of Columbia Associations in Civil Service and the Columbus Citizens Foundation.

Simultaneously, a skeleton staff works back at the Foundation answering phone calls relevant to the following day’s Mass and Parade, processing the auction sales of the prior evening, mailing the items to the recipients, and generally dealing with an endless array of details to ensure the subsequent day’s success.

Now it is early Monday morning when all gather at the Foundation, as members come in for a buffet breakfast  and then board the reserved buses transporting them to the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a very special service celebrated by His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan. The magnificent organ and the voices of the choir penetrate every corner and resound throughout the Cathedral, as if understanding the solemnity of the occasion.

With the stage set and crews in place, the Line of March is ready to begin, as a colorful entourage unfolds before the cheering crowds. It is an impressive display that makes its way up Fifth Avenue.

The work has been done and another year passes. Did you know that this Parade is just one event of a celebratory weekend that enables the Foundation to award its annual scholarships to children of Italian-American descent who are financially challenged? Indeed, another part of the Columbus Citizens Foundation’s mission states, “We firmly commit to raise and distribute financial aid to educate children in need and pledge to extend ourselves in perpetuating the philanthropic work that has been synonymous with our Foundation.”

The Columbus Citizens Foundation will proudly continue to celebrate the legacy of Christopher Columbus, explorer, navigator and visionary and the  Columbus Day Parade will always serve to commemorate a community of immigrants, its role in building America, and the transmission of its heritage.

Delving into factual evidence is the educational tool needed to understand not only Christopher Columbus, but all historical figures, relevant to the times and circumstances in which they lived. Historical facts are paramount and education is the key that will open the door!

 

 

 

 

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