July 6, 2014

Celebrating Faith and Culture at the 12th Annual Club Sassanese d’America Dinner Dance

Evviva San Giovanni!
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

Last Sunday (June 29th) I had the great pleasure of partaking in the Annual Club Sassanese d’America Dinner Dance in honor of San Giovanni Battista, patron saint of Sassano. Around 120 guests, including members of The Federazione delle Associazioni della Campania USA, Our Lady of Snow Society and St. Rocco Society of Potenza, made their way to Verdi’s Banquet Hall in Westbury, New York, for the celebration.

Traditionally, in Sassano the Feast of San Giovanni (June 24th) is celebrated with Mass and a Procession. Family and friends gather for lunch or dinner, and later they’ll enjoy live entertainment and a spectacular fireworks display. The night before, on Saint John’s Eve, there are huge bonfires known as Saint John’s Fire. The fires are part of an ancient purification ritual connected with the June solstice and signify a change in season.

Like many other southern Italian immigrant groups, the Sassanese brought their devotion to their beloved patron with them to the United States, adapting the customs and rituals to suit the new environment.

After morning Mass, I met up with friends and headed for the party. We arrived at Verdi’s by noon, just in time for the cocktail hour. Mingling with other guests, we sampled an incredible assortment of salatini and apértifs, to whet our appetites.

Just getting warmed up, the party moved into an elegant dining room—reminiscent of an old world palazzo—for the real festivities. After everyone was seated the society “procession” made its grand entrance to thunderous applause. Members carrying flags, banners and a photo of the old society statue of San Giovanni Battista (now housed in Saint Rocco’s Church in Glen Cove, NY) preceded the officers and board of directors.

Following the National Anthem and greetings, President Tom DeLisa and Vice President Michele Zozzaro presented the society’s first ever scholarship award to Mattia Biancamano, a gracious young man with a bright future. Mattia’s winning essay spoke of his love for his family and Sassanese heritage. We wish him all the best as he pursues his college education.

Needless to say, the true highlight of the evening was the Man of the Year Award. Each year the society recognizes an outstanding individual and awards him with a medal and plaque for his exceptional achievements or contributions to our community.

This year’s recipient was non other than Ciro Formisano, a brilliant young scientist who hails from Sassano. Currently the Director of Research and Development in Systemdesign S.r.l. and CEO in Airgloss S.r.l., Ciro has many scientific accomplishments to his credit, including the coordination of the 2011 pre-launch activities of the NASA Space Shuttle mission STS-134 on behalf of the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

Ciro’s NADIR (Electronic Nose for Environmental Air Quality Monitoring), a portable, battery powered device for air quality control and monitoring, was successfully tested on the International Space Station. In addition to being able to detect and classify Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), some of which can have adverse health effects, the system is also being used for early non-invasive diagnosis of certain types of cancers.

Ciro was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to celebrate with us. What a thrill it was to meet him.

After the formalities, spirits were high and the guests were ready to party. And that we did! We were treated to an exquisite four course meal, complete with a spectacular Viennese hour. In-between courses, revelers took to the dance floor and danced to DJ Lo Stivale’s fantastic mix of waltzes, tangos and tarantellas. Some couples hardly stopped to eat.

The evening concluded with exciting raffle drawings, featuring prizes from bed linens, to kitchen appliances, to a Samsung Tablet. It was fun to see the good natured competitiveness between tables as the winning numbers were picked. Alas, our table didn’t win anything, while (as luck would have it) our gloating neighbors won three out of the six prizes.

I would like to thank the Club Sassanese d’America for a job well done. They are a terrific group, full of warmth and hospitality. I would especially like to thank Elena Loguercio for inviting me. Her hard work and dedication to our community is an inspiration. As always, it was a great honor to be a part of such a wonderful celebration of faith and culture.
The color guard leads the procession into the banquet hall 
Ladies carry the society banner
Women in traditional folk costume carry a portrait of San Giovanni Battista
Paying tribute to America
Officers present Mattia Biancamano his scholarship award
Elena Loguercio presents Ciro Formisano his Man of the Year Medal 
Ciro Formisano humbly accepts his awards
Mattia Biancamano recites his winning essay 
Ladies in traditional folk costumes 
(Above and below) Partygoers danced all day long
It's not a party without the tarantella 
A cake in honor of Ciro Formisano
Revelers chew over their options during Viennese hour
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