By Danielle Winterton
Beginning June 23 and continuing through Sunday evening, The Fraternal Society of Castrofilippo will host the 35th Annual Feast of St. Antonio Abate in Astoria. The tradition plays out an ancient ritual that heralds a Christian ascetic who lived a solitary life like a hermit in the Egyptian desert just a quarter of a century after the birth of Jesus Christ. He may actually have been one of the last hermitic ascetics, as the church, just then in its foundling stages, would soon begin to clothe its priests in uniform robes and eventually deck itself in decorative fancy.St. Antonio Abate is famous for emerging victorious from every demonic temptation and possession he ever encountered. He is remembered as being an initiator of miracles, a vindicator of crimes against women, and a loved and trusted confidante to children, but his strongest link seems to be with the hunters, skinners, and butchers: Antonio Abate's ritual is traditionally said to have marked the first “carnevale,” or “carnival,” derived from the Latin “carne,” or “meat-eater.” In paintings and pictoral fables, Abate is shown surrounded by the fleshy creatures of the animal kingdom: chickens, cows, goats, boars, pigs. All of these animals and their culinary offspring (i.e., sausages) have been featured at Abate festivals throughout the course of time, thrown into and scorched by the massive bonfires that are lit on the evening of the festival. In Italy, San Antonio Abate is the patron saint of Castrofilippo, which is located in the Agrigento Province. There his festival is held in the second week of May, which explains the timing of the decorations on Ditmars; in other parts of the country the festival is held in January. But here in Astoria it will begin on Thursday, June 23, at 5 p.m., with the Opening of the Feast, which will be followed by musical entertainment. Friday and Saturday this schedule will repeat itself, and the music will be as follows: “The Forestieri” on Thursday night, “Iraggi Del Sole” on Friday night, and “La Nuova Era” on Saturday night. On Sunday at 4 p.m., Father Carmelo Gagliardi will lead the celebration of mass in honor of Saint Antonio Abate at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 45th Street and 21st Avenue. After mass, a procession will lead participants back to the festival site on Ditmars Avenue between 35th and 38th Street, where music spun by DJ Stefano will kick off at 7 p.m. At 10:30 p.m., a raffle drawing will take place for the grand prize of a brand new car. In past years, community residents have complained that the festival generates too much fracas and have tried to block the Society of Castrofilippo from getting a permit. These efforts have been in vain, however, as perhaps the fracas is a necessary byproduct of raucous celebration, and in any case, the party has not missed a beat for 35 years and counting.So if you are near Astoria next weekend, swing by Dtimars Ave; eat some meat, drink some spirits, listen to music, and honor Saint Antonio Abate for more than 2000 years of representing the virtues of asceticism.