If you stop and watch Cyan Clements, 13, and other teens in action at St. Peter’s Fiesta, you’ll see that the five-day event means much more to them than a plate of fried dough or rides that deal a mean adrenaline rush.
“Fiesta is about having fun with friends and enjoying the time you have here,” said Clements.
That’s what Clements and her friends, JP and Sophia, were getting ready to do at Fiesta’s unofficial opening Wednesday night. Along with hundreds of local teens who will gather in St. Peter’s Square and crowd Pavilion Beach to watch the Greasy Pole and Seine Boat races this week, they will take part in traditions that have become significant and unique to each young Fiesta-goer.
“(For middle schoolers), it’s probably their first couple of years where they do something without their parents,” said 15-year-old Sofia Machado. “Fiesta gives them a chance to be independent and have a go at making good decisions. To high schoolers, especially seniors, Fiesta gives them a chance to see all their friends.”
Machado attends a boarding school in Maine for most of the year and said Fiesta helps keep her tied to Gloucester. She runs into old friends at the carnival, and the boat races give her a chance to spend time with her family as they cheer on her older sister Gabby’s rowing team, Up Roar.
For Machado and many other teens, including 15-year-old Ezio LoContro, Fiesta is all about the people who help them make such special memories during it.
“My favorite memory of Fiesta is hanging out with all my friends by the basketball hoop game and just enjoying life,” said LoContro. “But my favorite part about Fiesta is soaking in all the culture and just embracing what a great town I live in.”
LoContro will be holding an Italian flag while walking in Sunday’s parade, a tradition he has taken part in for years. Like LoContro, 18-year-old Skye Foote said tradition is one of the most important parts of Fiesta.
Foote said watching her father, Greasy Pole winner David Foote, and his friends walk the Greasy Pole is her highlight of Fiesta each year. Now that she has graduated high school, she hopes to walk in her father’s place during Sunday’s Greasy Pole in 2020.
“Fiesta is special to me because my family has always been in the Fiesta spirit,” said Foote.
While events such as the Greasy Pole, Sunday’s parade and the boat races may seem like they are dominated by adults, many teens appreciate and try to take part in them just as much as the older generations do.
Kelsey Lowthers, 16, will be running in Fiesta 5K on Thursday and rowing in the junior Seine Boat Races this year for the second time. She said these events unite Gloucester and are extremely special for her and her peers.
“I love rowing,” said Lowthers “It truly is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it is also the best thing I have ever done.”
Of course, Lowthers, Foote and their friends head up to the carnival once the boats are ashore and the Greasy Pole has been won. Like most teens, their favorite ride is the Freakout: a pendulum thrill-ride that flings teens strapped into its seating with no floor below them about 70 feet in the air.
In between the rides, you’ll find teens on the midway, hanging out next to the basketball hoop game or facing off at the water shooting game, a beloved, if a bit annoying, staple of the carnival.
“The words ‘It’s water gun fun!’ (which the person running the game says to those walking by) play over and over in each teen’s head as we patiently wait throughout the year for our first week of summer fun to come along,” said Lowthers.
Fiesta often lets teens finally feel a sense of independence, unites them with friends and family and gives them a chance to participate in and preserve the Gloucester traditions they will likely cherish for the rest of their lives. But in the short term, Fiesta marks an important milestone in most every teen’s year.
“Most of us high schoolers always say it really doesn’t feel like summer until Fiesta comes,” said 16-year-old Juliana Bolognese. “It seems like after Fiesta, the weather gets warmer and life just gets better.”