Columbus Day parade celebrates heritage
The Knights of Columbus kick off the annual Columbus Day parade along Pratt Street.
John Sancandi and Loretta Butta’s parents emigrated from Italy through Ellis Island, and for years their family has been celebrating that heritage in Baltimore’s annual Columbus Day parade.
On Sunday, they and their family members carried a large Italian flag from the base of Federal Hill on Key Highway along Pratt Street, and threw candy at onlookers, before ending the parade in Little Italy. Butta, 77, of Perry Hall, has attended the parade every year since 1996.
“It’s good to see Christopher Columbus every year, and he never ages, which is just amazing,” joked Butta, a member of the Order of Sons of Italy in America. “After all these years, he still looks good.”
The parade, in its 126th year, attracts many of Italian heritage who feel a kinship with Columbus, the Genoan credited with starting European colonization of the Americas. But the parade also featured dancers in Bolivian garb, including orange-and-white sequined dresses and elaborate tall hats with feathers and streamers. A group of people of Mexican heritage featured two people in animal costumes, one a jaguar cracking a large whip, as they danced up Pratt Street.
The festival’s Italian roots were on full display with a float shaped like a ship at sea and dubbed “Lil Santa Maria,” captained by a Christopher Columbus lookalike who was waving Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens, American and Italian flags.
The ship’s occupants tossed Tootsie Rolls at the children, adults and shrieking teenagers who lined Pratt Street. Other floats, cars and pedestrians threw Mardi Gras-style beads, candy and red, green and white confetti — the colors of the Italian flag.
The parade ended in Little Italy, which was hosting the Madonnari Arts Festival over the weekend. Artists painted the streets with images of Harriett Tubman, giant beetles, traditional Italian paintings and abstract works.
Bill Martin, a member of the Associated Italian American Charities and a parade organizer, said the event was held the week before Columbus Day for logistical reasons.
In addition to celebrating Columbus and continuing traditions, Martin said, organizers wanted to help support businesses in Little Italy at the parade’s end point. Restaurants in the neighborhood have struggled with declining business in recent years.
The parade has been staged for 126 years.
“We don’t want to break that tradition,” Martin said.
In recent years, Columbus has gone from being revered to criticized for his role in the destruction of American Indian tribes. Mike Gallerizzo, president of the Associated Italian American Charities, said the community acknowledged Columbus’ past.
“There’s some things in his past that we don’t like, OK, and that we’re not proud of,” Gallerizzo said. “But we’re trying as an Italian community to come together and celebrate our Italian heritage, and he’s part of it.”