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Italian tradition takes local men on 2013 journey

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Mary Baroni waves goodbye to all the men who made a stop at her house early Tuesday morning, New Year’s Day. The visit was part of an Italian tradition in which the men and boys travel from house to house and collect goodies and money from the Italian women and girls in the community.

NATCHEZ — Natchez isn’t exactly the old country, but a group of local Italian men used a New Year’s Day tradition from their families’ home country to keep their heritage alive Tuesday.

Charles and Modie Mascagni brought back the tradition seven years ago of Italian men traveling to the homes of Italian families on New Year’s Day to spread good luck.

Connie Gamberi laughs with Paul Mascagni as he, Ricky Warren, right, and others make a stop at the Gamberi house.

The tradition was popular in Natchez up until the 1970s, when it ceased. Modie and Charles said they wanted to bring it back to honor their heritage.

“We’re making sure it’s kept alive through us,” Charles said.

The Mascagnis and several other local men joined in the celebration, which many of them participated in when they were children.

The men would start at midnight, Charles said, and go from Morgantown to Old Washington Road and onto St. Catherine Street and downtown and stop at the homes, and the families would have money and liquor for the men and fruit and candy for the boys.

“For us as kids, it was huge,” he said. “There’s no telling how many families participated.”

The women traditionally stayed at home on New Year’s Day, and Barbara Stallone Lomasney, whose home was the first stop Tuesday, said she remembers her grandmother not letting the girls in her family leave the house on Jan. 1.

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Carolyn Stallone Eidt offers a dollar to Chandler Warren on New Year’s Day as part of an Italian tradition. Warren and other men and boys drove from house to house visiting the women in their families.

“As long as my grandmother was living, we didn’t leave the house because of the tradition that the man’s place was out making the money and the woman’s place was in the home,” she said.

Lomasney handed out small plastic bags of quarters to the men to represent the tradition and greeted them by saying “buon anno,” which means happy New Year in Italian.

Before making their rounds at nine houses, the men met at 6:30 a.m. at Lil Dagos’ for homemade tortellini, which is pronounced “torteloon” and a variety of other ways depending on whose Southern Italian accent says it.

The tortellini and the other Italian traditions are ones that John Gamberi said he is thankful to have to link him to his Italian heritage.

“I think it’s a real good thing that we can get together like this and connect with all the Italians for this tradition,” he said.