Try the greasy pole contest at the Italian Festival

By Rachel Betz - ReminderNews Intern
Enfield - posted Mon., Aug. 1, 2011
Contestants try to reach the top of the greased pole. Photo contributed. - Contributed Photo

The greasy pole contest is a staple at the 86th Annual Enfield Italian Festival. Just as the name implies, contestants must try to climb a pole that is covered in grease, with the objective of reaching the top. At the top of the pole, there are usually prizes hanging, such as meat and cheese, or sometimes money.

There are various beliefs as to the history behind this contest. Some believe that the greasy pole represents taste and hunger, and dreams of not going hungry. Because food is typically hung at the top of the pole, reaching the top meant not having to go hungry.
Another belief is rooted in ancient Greco-Sicilian fertility rites. During these rites, men often dressed up as and imitated women, and tried to conquer the climbing of the pole.

The phrase, “to climb the greasy pole,” is often used in reference to advancing within society or an organization, particularly in politics. 
However, the modern-day greasy pole competition originated in Sicily during the 1920s, while Italians were immigrating to America. In Sicily, instead of using a vertical pole, the pole is horizontal above the water, about 200 feet from shore. The pole ranges from 10-25 feet above the water, is typically between 40 and 45 feet long and is only as wide as a telephone pole. To achieve the greasy aspect, the pole is coated with axle grease mixed with things such as laundry detergent, banana peels and any other greasy substance. At the end of the pole, there is often an Italian flag with a red flag underneath it. Men must capture the flag without falling into the water.

During the Enfield Italian Festival, the greasy pole contest will start at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7. Sign-ups begin at 5 p.m. In this competition, teams climb over each other in order to get to the top. The first team to reach the top will claim the prize of $300 in cash and imported Italian cold cuts. In order to participate, entrants must be at least 18 years old.

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