The first Sunday in May is my favorite day of the year in Hoboken – it's the annual art and music festival (this Sunday is the 16th edition; and there's one in September, too). I usually participate in the annual New York City five-borough bike ride the same day, so after sweating from riding 40-plus miles, I relish the opportunity to head out onto traffic-free Washington Street and indulge in fresh-squeezed lemonade and fried Oreo's. The weather normally cooperates, which makes this festival (or festivus, as my family refers to it) one to look forward to, and it's a great way to kick-start being outdoors in Hoboken.
However just being outdoors is not what this festival is designed to celebrate, which is what a festival is supposed to do, so all too often the meaning of these festivals and parades is disregarded.
Hoboken has always had a rich history with artists. For the past 28 years, the City has sponsored a free self-guided walking tour of artists' studios and gallery spaces, giving you the chance to meet the painters, photographers, and sculptors. However, at this Sunday's festival, other than these virtuosos setting up a tented booth trying to sell their work – most just sit in their booth disengaged to the massive foot traffic anyway – nothing, or nobody, is physically being celebrated.
The delusion begins with Hoboken's very first parade of the year, the horrific and overrated St. Patrick's Day parade. It's always held on the first Saturday in March so the town doesn't lose people to the big parade across the Hudson on the 17th, but the earlier date is also the parade's demise. The legendary and infamous parade's popularity grows every year, like a story from the Bible being passed down from generation to generation. The parade itself has become an afterthought with tens of thousands of people congregating from all over the tri-state area at all of the bars and house parties for their annual visit to the Mile Square. The actual parade begins at 1:00 pm, three hours after the bars open, and only lasts for about an hour. For me the highlight is watching and listening to the bagpipers, but there's really no point of venturing to the parade as most of the bagpipers wind up at the bars anyway, and play the same ditty. Even Ireland, who considers the holiday a religious one, realized how prosperous St. Patrick's Day is and in 1995 lifted the ban on bars from being open.
After all the drinkers go home, and the trash is cleaned up, all that's left to remind us of the parade, until it fades away over several months from weather and traffic, is a single green line painted in between the double yellow that runs up and down Washington Street; along with relentless and repetitive complaints by residents who are tired of the commotion. By the way, St. Patrick, who is one of the most revered saints in all of Christianity, mainly for converting Ireland from a pagan to a Christian land, didn't drive the snakes out of Ireland, and is rumored to have died on March 17.
Just three days after the art and music festival is Cinco de Mayo, which has turned into just another day to excessively drink. There are beer specials on Dos Equis, Mikie Squared is advertising their fiesta with a giant worm on their window banner, insinuating drinking tequila, and East L.A. is packed like a five-layer burrito. Yet the only Mexicans I see out on this day are usually the busboys and bar backs who work at these establishments. Is anyone aware that the fifth of May is when the Mexican Army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla, and not when Mexico gained its independence, which took place September 16, 1810, nearly 50 years before this battle?
Hoboken, which is deep-rooted in Italian heritage, has the Feast of St. Ann's, the Feast of St. Anthony, and the Hoboken Italian Festival, which has been going on here for 75 years and dates back 600 years to a festival in Italy. There is a procession of the reenactment of the "Blessing of the Feet" but it's amidst vendors selling "Kiss me, I'm Italian" t-shirts and a nearby barbecue restaurant selling its homemade sauce.
The most recent festivity is the Puerto Rican Celebration on Pier A. I've never been, frankly because I'm frightened to attend one, since historically, at least the ones in New York City, typically turn into chaos. However, I do have to applaud the overwhelming amount of pride Puerto Ricans have in their culture and aren't afraid to display, the majority of it being in various forms of their flags' logo, along with the flag itself, usually waving in the wind, strapped to the hood of their cars.
All of these festivals are ways to make money, albeit for churches in some cases, which is always a worthy cause, like Funfest. And I'm guilty of being a part of the majority, attending these parades and festivals, not realizing their origins, or caring to take an interest, while I scarf down a sausage (or two) and more fried Oreo's. It's just a matter of time before the carnival game where you fill up a balloon with water is turned into a float for a parade to "celebrate" soldiers returning from the waterless Middle East. Oh, the irony.