A guide to Little Italy’s 93rd annual Feast of San Gennaro

Posted On Wed, September 11, 2019 By

Posted On Wed, September 11, 2019 By In Events, Features, little italy, NYC Guides, Top Stories

Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft

Over a million people are expected to flock to Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood this week when the Feast of San Gennaro officially kicks off on Thursday. The 11-day celebration began in 1926 as a way for immigrants in New York to maintain the Italian tradition of honoring the patron saint of Naples, Saint Januarius, with a feast every September. While the makeup of Little Italy has evolved over the last century, shrinking in size from 30 blocks to about nine, the Feast of San Gennaro remains one of New York City’s most popular events. Ahead, get a taste for all things Italian with our guide to one of the city’s largest street fairs, from the history of the iconic event to cannoli-eating contests and religious processions.


Photo by Shinya Suzuki on Flickr

Starting in the late 19th-century, immigrants settled in Lower Manhattan, with communities from various Italian villages putting roots down on different city blocks. According to Walks of New York, Italian Americans made up 17 percent of the city’s population by 1930.

Following World War II, Little Italy residents left the crowded quarters of Manhattan for more spacious digs in Brooklyn, New Jersey, and on Staten Island. The neighborhood later became home to a large population of Chinese immigrants after a 1965 federal policy made it easier to migrate to the United States.

As the size of Manhattan’s Little Italy continued to get smaller, with roughly 1,000 residents of Italian ancestry reported in 2000, a nonprofit formed to keep the traditions of the old neighborhood alive. Thanks to the Figli di San Gennaro, Inc., which has organized the feast since 1996, the Feast of San Gennaro has preserved a significant part of the Italian experience in New York City.

In the beginning, celebrations like the Feast of San Gennaro provided a sense of place and pride for many Italian immigrants in the U.S. What began as a one-day religious event in 1926 has grown into an 11-day festival of food, carnival games, music, and more, attracting both tourists and New Yorkers alike.

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Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft

Mass & processions:

The Feast begins on Sept. 12  at 6 p.m. with the Blessing of the Stands, with Msgr. David Cassato blessing each stall of vendors along Mulberry Street.

The grand procession kicks off on Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. with live music from the Red Mike Festival Band. The grand marshal is Steve Schirripa, the Brooklyn-born actor who played Bobby Baccalieri on The Sopranos.

On Sept. 19, the solemn high mass honoring the patron Saint of Naples is at 6 p.m. It will be held at the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood at 113 Baxter Street. After mass, there will be a religious procession with the statue of San Gennaro.

Entertainment:

  • Johnny Mandolin & Friends take the stage on Sept. 12 at 5 p.m., followed by Free Pass at 7:30 p.m.
  • La La Brooks & the Crystals perform on Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
  • The Red Mike Festival Band performs during the Grand Procession at 2 p.m. on Sept. 14
  • Gene Roberts Band performs at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15
  • On Sept. 16 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., see the 24th Annual Enrico Caruso Opera Night with Cheryl Warfield, Francesca Caviglia, Marie Anello, and Valerie Chibisova
  • On Sept. 17, The Devotions take the stage at 7:30 p.m.
  • The Chicklets perform at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 18
  • The Neapolitan Concert will go on Sept. 19 at 2 p.m.
  • Check out Vito & the Elegants at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20
  • A vocal competition takes place “in honor of the great Italian singers” on Sept. 21 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., followed by a show from Just Friends at 7:30 p.m.
  • Closing out the festival on Sept. 22 is Jimmy Russo & the Flowers at 4 p.m., followed by Jenna Esposito at 6:30 p.m.


Photo by Jazz Guy on Flickr

Eating contests:

  • The 22nd annual cannoli eating contest kicks off at 1 p.m. on Sept. 13
  • For the first time ever, there will be a zeppole eating contest. It will be held on Sept. 18 at 1 p.m.
  • A meatball eating competition is on Sept. 21 at 1 p.m.

Can’t miss food vendors, restaurants, & shops of Little Italy:

Italian celebrations & festivals outside of Manhattan:

  • The Feast of San Gennaro at the Jersey Shore takes over Belmar for two days on Sept. 14 and 15, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. A mass of San Gennaro at St. Rose Catholic Church kicks things off on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 10 a.m., followed by a procession down Main Street. The cannoli eating contest starts at 1 p.m.
  • Every September, the Little Italy of the Bronx hosts the Ferragosto Festival, an all-day food festival that celebrates the end of the harvest season. This year’s event took place on Sept. 8.
  • Every July since 1903, the Giglio Feast comes to Williamsburg for 12 days in honor of San Paolino di Nola. The Giglio Society of East Harlem celebrates a month later with an annual four-day feast on Pleasant Avenue.

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