Dorchester Day— like the neighborhood itself – is a delicious concoction. Observed each year on the first Sunday in June, it’s partly a celebration of the solstice. School’s not out just yet, but for neighborhood kids, Dot Day is an unmistakable marker of looming liberation to be played out on city blacktop.
First conceived by historians intent on preserving their Yankee heritage, the earliest Dorchester Days were bittersweet look-backs as a small town was being consumed by a swelling metropolis. Modern Dot Day shoots an occasional glance back at fast-fading Puritan figures.
Until fairly recently, “Landing Day” re-enactors in black garb and floppy hats rowed ashore at Savin Hill Beach where it was hard to ignore the Rainbow tank hulking on the shore. Close your eyes on Sunday as the clip-clap of horse hooves echoes once again off the red-brick spires at St. Greg’s and you can conjure up carriages shimmying along the dusty toll road.
It’s a brief interlude, though, because Dorchester Day plays out in the moment – it’s a celebration of what we are now.
Dot Day pulses up the avenue to steel drum and Dance Hall, brass bands and bagpipes and the amped-up bass-line and drum-breaks of Bell Biv Devoe. The parade itself is a herky-jerky, three-mile-long street fest, a strung-out block party that parts to allow safe passage for a motley procession of politicians, Clydesdales and costumed characters, tiny dancers and tinier ballplayers. They quick-time it and then wait, and quick-time it and then wait, following the double-yellow-line from the one-time Baker factory to the edge of the Polish Triangle.
And Dot Day doesn’t end when the last street-sweepers have blasted their way through the debris of Columbia Road. The parade— as central as it is to the day’s festivities— is a warm-up for the bouncy houses and backyard BBQs that will sizzle and smolder into the night.
Dot Day is not a destination for boozed-up suburban cowboys seeking to play city kid for a day. The misfortune that descends upon our beleaguered neighbors to the north every March is not a burden we share. Boston cops will dot every street corner on Sunday, but it’s a cushy detail. Most years, we can count the arrests on one hand— and still have a finger or two to spare.
Dorchester is dynamic and complicated, confounding even many who’ve lived here for decades. How does one celebrate a community that’s constantly in flux, flinging off inhabitants to the far reaches and making room for newcomers in the same breath? Dot Day is our humble attempt at doing this place justice. Like Dorchester, it’s a work in progress— but the fun is in the attempt.
Enjoy the parade, everyone.