The 91st Annual Feast of San Gennaro took place in Little Italy for 11 days from September 14, through September 24, 2017, on the streets of historic Little Italy, the lower Manhattan neighborhood which served as the first home in America for hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants who came here seeking to improve their lives beginning in the early part of the 20th century.

Presented annually since 1926 by Figli di San Gennaro, Inc. (Children of San Gennaro), a not-for-profit community organization dedicated to keeping alive the spirit and faith of the early Italian immigrants, this year’s Feast is expected once again to attract more than one million people from the four corners of the globe to the streets of Little Italy to participate in the annual Salute to the Patron Saint of Naples.

The immigrant families on Mulberry Street who started the feast, a group of cafe owners, erected a small chapel in the street to house the image of their patron Saint. They invited all to partake of their wares, asking the devoted to pin an offering to the ribbon streamers that are hung from the statue’s apron. This money was then distributed to the needy poor of the neighborhood. Over time, the festival expanded into an 11-day street fair organized and run by people outside the neighborhood. It is now an annual celebration of food and drink and a major tourist attraction.
Centered on Mulberry Street, which is closed to traffic for the occasion, the festival generally features sausages, zeppole, street vendors, games, parades and other such attractions. The Grand Procession is held starting at 2 p.m. on the last Saturday of the feast, immediately after a celebratory Mass at the Church of the Most Precious Blood. This is a Roman Catholic candlelit procession in which the statue of San Gennaro is carried from its permanent home in the Most Precious Blood Church through the streets of Little Italy.

Another festival is held with the same attractions in New York City’s other Little Italy, in the Fordham/Belmont community in the Bronx. The streets are closed to traffic, and the festivities begin early in the morning and proceed late into the night.
Similar festivals have also been sponsored in other cities, the most recent being Belmar, New Jersey. The Feast of San Gennaro of the Jersey Shore was founded in 2012 by Daniel Di Cesare, whose goal was to highlight the positive contributions of Italian Americans.
In 2002, Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Carolla, and Doug DeLuca founded the Feast of San Gennaro Los Angeles, which is now a major annual event held every September in Hollywood. Also, Tony Sacca brought The Feast of San Gennaro to the Las Vegas Valley, Nevada, in 1986. The event started small in a park, but due to its success moved to larger grounds. It is held twice a year, in the Spring and Fall. The Las Vegas, Nevada, festival has traditional Italian cuisine, carnival rides and games, and entertainers such as Emilio Baglioni and Louis Prima’s daughter, Lena Prima.
In 2013, The San Gennaro Foundation Seattle was formed by the Mascio family to bring the San Gennaro Festival to Seattle, WA. Held the second week of September, it includes the processional of the Saint San Gennaro statue, live music, and food. This three-day festival is held in the heart of Georgetown, WA, where many of Seattle’s Italian community settled when they first arrived in Seattle.

New York Little Italy’s Feast of San Gennaro salutes the patron saint of Naples throughout the festival’s 11-day run. One highlight of the traditional Italian-American street fair is the food located along Mulberry Street: cannoli, fried dough, torrone (a honey nougat candy usually flecked with almonds) and, of course, sausage-and-pepper sandwiches. (There is also pizza- and cannoli-eating contests.) Aside from the edibles—for which you’ll want to bring some cash—guests can enjoy live music, cooking demonstrations and the focus of the event: a customary procession of the statue of San Gennaro on September 19.
The 2017 edition of the Feast hasn’t disappointed the numerous joyful attendees who came from all over the City, and everybody had a terrific time.
Mamma mia! See you in 2018!

Article and pictures by Joseph Ralph Fraia

 

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