The Cirinos — descendants of the DeMarco family — meet at Presti’s Bakery on Mayfield Road in Cleveland’s Little Italy, just beside the stoic Holy Rosary Church. Like a scene from Cheaper by the Dozen, a small army of children run between and around my feet. The adults of the family speak to me all at once, interjecting with each other, cracking jokes and adding details as others try to answer my questions.
Most notably, they’re dressed identically — each family member wearing the colors of the Italian flag. Since 1936, female members of the DeMarco family have donned matching green, white and red dresses and gathered for the Feast of the Assumption — returning Aug. 15 for its 123rd year — as a nod to their rich heritage.
“We can’t stop the tradition,” says Victoria Cirino McNamara, 77, granddaughter of Carmela DeMarco, the first family member to walk in the procession all those decades ago. “As long as I’m alive, I’m never going to stop,” adds Victoria’s niece, Gina Nadock.
The tradition ties the family together, reminding them of the longevity of their clan. In fact, they still hoist the same banner Carmela carried more than 80 years ago — the oldest in the procession, according to them. You’ll likely notice it this year, with its lavender cloth trimmed in white and gold, hanging above four generations of a proud Cleveland family.
The dresses came much later, between 2005 and 2009, when Nadock stumbled upon them on a trip to Texas. She purchased the first one for her daughter, who donned it at the following Feast. A few years later, the family returned to Texas and purchased several more, and the adult women of the family took to wearing red tops and Italian flag-colored skirts to match, solidifying the tradition.
Now, Nadock’s daughter, the first to wear the family’s iconic garb, is 18. She’s long since graduated to the red top and skirt of her elders, but since then, the family has added three new little ones, each donning their own tiny white dresses, the original included.
As I say my goodbyes, the family invites me — and nearly everyone else nearby — to the real feast, a massive family dinner they host after the procession every year. It’s not uncommon for more than 100 people to show up, and Nadock handmakes more than 500 delectable meatballs, ensuring a full-bellied end to a day of family bonding.
“For us, it’s as important as Christmas,” Nadock says. “Family is number one, and there’s nothing better.”
Dig in to the full schedule events for the Holy Rosary Church’s 123rd Feast of the Assumption.