Greasy poles, guts and glory are hallmarks of this unique Mass. tradition
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Greasy poles, guts and glory are hallmarks of this unique Mass. tradition

Massachusetts residents of one seafaring community know a thing or two about greasy poles.It’s because they happen to use one in an annual competition for major bragging rights.”It’s honestly what you dream of ever since you’re a kid,” said Tyler Parisi Friday afternoon.Throw in a life-sized saint to parade around the town, and you’ve got yourself the highlight of the year for the seaside town of Gloucester, Massachusetts.Landlubbers of the Commonwealth might not fully understand the gravity of the greasy pole.”That feeling,” Parisi said of the contest. “You can’t even compare it to anything.” Watching from the shore Friday, Parisi cheered for friends making their way across the pole, which was lathered with oils and slick substances of varying types.”One year, they threw banana peels on,” he said.The contestants, many dressed in costume, wait their turn on an island platform anchoring the horizontal pole. When their name is called, they run from one end to the other, attempting to capture the flag at the end before falling off. “It’s a real rush,” said Parisi. “There’s really nothing like it.”Parisi, who was set to compete Saturday, said his father, uncle and other patriarchs of the family have taken home the title in years past.”I feel like I’m due,” he said. The tradition originated in Sicily, Italy, in the 1920s. The weekend-long event, called St. Peter’s Fiesta, is scheduled on the weekend closest to the feast day of St. Peter, the patron saint of the fisherman. Leading up to and during the event, residents pray for the safe return of their fisherman on their voyages. For the greasy pole contestants who have looked forward to their turn since childhood, winning means a victory unlike any other.”If they could choose to get a $30,000 raise at work or choose to win this,” Parisi said of the contestants. “I bet they’re choosing to win this.” “It’s everything to me!” said Jerry Talazzola, who said he competed as a teen in the 1950s. “It’s about heart, St. Peter, family – everything.”Talazzola’s was one of many Italian-American fishing families gathered in the driveways and alleyways of their homes to celebrate with food, drink and music.With his sleepy great-grandson, Jeremiah, on his lap, Talazzola dreamed of the youngster’s chance to take on the pole.”Greasy pole is unbelievable,” he said.A carnival, music and a parade featuring a life-sized version of St. Peter mark the start of Gloucester’s most anticipated event. This year’s greasy pole winner, Max Allen, was brought up the streets from the water on the shoulders of fellow contestants.”Unbelievable,” he said, holding a champion’s belt and hoisting the flag. “Unbelievable.”Around him, friends, family and fans shouted the fiesta chant in Italian, punctuated by shouts of “Viva!”Parisi, looking ahead to his turn on the pole, hoped to get farther than his own best attempt in 2017.”It’s killed me ever since,” he said.

Massachusetts residents of one seafaring community know a thing or two about greasy poles.

It’s because they happen to use one in an annual competition for major bragging rights.

“It’s honestly what you dream of ever since you’re a kid,” said Tyler Parisi Friday afternoon.

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Throw in a life-sized saint to parade around the town, and you’ve got yourself the highlight of the year for the seaside town of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Landlubbers of the Commonwealth might not fully understand the gravity of the greasy pole.

“That feeling,” Parisi said of the contest. “You can’t even compare it to anything.”

Watching from the shore Friday, Parisi cheered for friends making their way across the pole, which was lathered with oils and slick substances of varying types.

“One year, they threw banana peels on,” he said.

The contestants, many dressed in costume, wait their turn on an island platform anchoring the horizontal pole. When their name is called, they run from one end to the other, attempting to capture the flag at the end before falling off.

“It’s a real rush,” said Parisi. “There’s really nothing like it.”

Parisi, who was set to compete Saturday, said his father, uncle and other patriarchs of the family have taken home the title in years past.

“I feel like I’m due,” he said.

The tradition originated in Sicily, Italy, in the 1920s. The weekend-long event, called St. Peter’s Fiesta, is scheduled on the weekend closest to the feast day of St. Peter, the patron saint of the fisherman. Leading up to and during the event, residents pray for the safe return of their fisherman on their voyages.

For the greasy pole contestants who have looked forward to their turn since childhood, winning means a victory unlike any other.

“If they could choose to get a $30,000 raise at work or choose to win this,” Parisi said of the contestants. “I bet they’re choosing to win this.”

“It’s everything to me!” said Jerry Talazzola, who said he competed as a teen in the 1950s. “It’s about heart, St. Peter, family – everything.”

Talazzola’s was one of many Italian-American fishing families gathered in the driveways and alleyways of their homes to celebrate with food, drink and music.

With his sleepy great-grandson, Jeremiah, on his lap, Talazzola dreamed of the youngster’s chance to take on the pole.

“Greasy pole is unbelievable,” he said.

A carnival, music and a parade featuring a life-sized version of St. Peter mark the start of Gloucester’s most anticipated event. This year’s greasy pole winner, Max Allen, was brought up the streets from the water on the shoulders of fellow contestants.

“Unbelievable,” he said, holding a champion’s belt and hoisting the flag. “Unbelievable.”

Around him, friends, family and fans shouted the fiesta chant in Italian, punctuated by shouts of “Viva!”

Parisi, looking ahead to his turn on the pole, hoped to get farther than his own best attempt in 2017.

“It’s killed me ever since,” he said.

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