Little Italy in lower Manhattan is a popular spot to visit year-round. But once a year in the beginning of fall, the streets of the historic neighborhood, which served as the first home for thousands of Italian immigrants, are filled with people eager to partake in Italian tradition, sample delicious traditional Italian food, march in parades and enjoy live music and a cannoli or three. This year, the feast runs from Sept. 15 to 25, and it promises to be yet another jam-packed 11 days of fried dough, pasta, pizza and live music in the streets.
The first feast occurred on Sept. 19, 1926 when newly arrived immigrants from Naples settled along Mulberry Street in Little Italy. They continued the tradition in Italy of celebrating the day when Saint Gennaro was martyred for faith. Since 1996, the feast has been presented by Figli di San Gennaro, Inc. (Children of San Gennaro), a nonprofit community organization dedicated to keeping alive the spirit and faith of the early Italian immigrants and to celebrate the Patron Saint of Naples.
But it’s the religious procession and pomp and circumstance that people love to watch. The statue of San Gennaro, and hundreds of parade walkers, make their way down Mulberry and Mott streets and between Canal and Houston streets. Every year, the procession begins immediately following a celebratory mass held at the Most Precious Blood Church the National Shrine of San Gennaro.
Popular spots like Ferrara Bakery and Café, Lombardi’s, The Mulberry Project and dozens of other restaurants, old and new, make their mark on Little Italy. It is custom to walk off a large meal with a cannoli, zeppole or gelato in hand, taking in the illuminated streets and walking past shops selling Italian goods. San Gennaro is not just a fun street festival that garners the attention of thousands of Americans. It is much more than that, and to those who want a lesson in culture and history, paired with a fun day in New York’s version of Italy, come hungry. It’s the closest to Italy you’ll get without a passport.
The Feast of San Gennaro opens every day at 11:30 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Visit www.sangennaro.org for more information. Visit www.longislandweekly.com for more popular spots in Little Italy.