Dorchester Day falls every year on the first Sunday of June. But, as longtime denizens of this town-turned-neighborhood well know, the name itself is a bit of a misnomer. In point of fact, it should probably be referred to as “Dorchester Season.”
The celebrations that revolve around our annual commemoration of Dorchester’s “foundation” actually start up in March. Tonight (March 26) marks the “official” kick-off to Dot Day festivities with a traditional meatloaf dinner that convenes in the beautifully restored First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill. It’s an appropriate setting given that the congregation at First Parish has a direct link to the English Puritans who landed here on the Mary and John in May 1630 – one month before a similar band of settlers “discovered” Boston. (The two communities remained separate entities until 1870, when Dorchester’s male landholders agreed to annexation.)
Topography and church steeples aside, there is little left of the olde Dorchester that 19th century dwellers would recognize. Perhaps sensing the need to cement a connection to those colonial settlement days, a group of history enthusiasts started the Dorchester Day Celebrations Committee in 1904. The first Dot Day centered on Savin Hill, where those first English men and women came ashore.
Over time, the celebrations bloomed into a broader celebration of a modern neighborhood’s emerging identity. A parade – heavy with martial units and clubs – was added to the mix. Over time, there were new traditions – Landing Day (once held the Saturday before Dot Day) to mark the actual event of the Pilgrims rowing to shore; Little Miss Dorchester contests (this year set for May 9) for young girls; road races and bike decoration contests; even a yacht race in Dorchester Bay.
Present-day Dorchester has its own roster of events, many of them intended to help offset the considerable costs of actually staging the June parade – which is set for Sun., June 7 this year. A contest to choose a ‘Mayor’ of Dorchester generates new civic-minded candidates each year. There’s a Salute to Seniors luncheon held annually at Florian Hall. And a $10,000 drawing at Florian Hall – set for May 22 – is a popular ticket.
One of the best innovations of the last decade has been the Dorchester Day Chili Cook-off, which is organized by civic leaders in Ashmont-Adams. This year’s event, a colorful Mardi Gras-themed party with a live band and a large turnout, was held on Sunday afternoon at the IBEW Hall on Freeport Street. It was a huge success.
Sometimes even those who live here have trouble describing it in all of its complexities. But Dorchester Day – and the long line-up of parties and traditions that serve as its annual prelude – helps us out in that regard. The parade is a proud representation of an inclusive, diverse, and dynamic community that is eager to share its energy with the larger city and the world.