The Feast of San Gennaro returns to Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood this week after last year’s event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Kicking 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.
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 shrunk, with roughly 1,000 residents of Italian ancestry recorded 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 event 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.
Photo courtesy of Feast of San Gennaro
Mass & processions:
This year’s event honors the city’s First Responders as a way to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The Feast begins on Sept. 16 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 September 25 at 2 p.m. with live music from the Red Mike Festival Band and the Giglio Band. The 2021 grand marshal is NYC Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro.
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.
- Johnny Mandolin & Friends takes the stage on Sept. 16 at 5 p.m., followed by Jimmy Cardinuto and SWAY at 7 p.m.
- Mike Sergio celebrates Sinatra is scheduled for Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.
- Also on Sept. 18, there will be a vocal competition at 2 p.m. “in honor of great Italian singers”
- Louis & JoAnn with the Uptown Band performs at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19
- On Sept. 21 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., see the 25th Annual Enrico Caruso Opera Night with Cheryl Warfield and Patrick Hale
- On Sept. 23, Joe Tribuzio takes the stage at 7 p.m.
- Vanessa Racci performs at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24.
- Closing out the festival on Sept. 26 is the Neapolitan Concert at 2 p.m., Vincent & Emily Ricciardi at 3 p.m., and Jenna Esposito at 6 p.m.
- The 23rd annual cannoli eating contest kicks off at 1 p.m. on Sept. 17
- A zeppole eating contest will be held on Sept. 22 at 1 p.m.
- For the first time ever, there will be a pizza-eating contest, sponsored by Upside Pizza, on Sept. 24 at 1 p.m.
- A meatball eating competition is on Sept. 26 at 1 p.m.
Can’t miss food vendors, restaurants, & shops of Little Italy:
- Lucy’s Sausage Stand for sausage and peppers
- Caffe Napoli on Mulberry Street
- Mulberry Street Cigars
- Ferrara Bakery & Cafe for Italian nougat candy, torrone
- Umberto’s Clam House for signature clam dish and celebrity sightings
- Alleva Dairy, the country’s oldest cheese store
Italian celebrations & festivals outside of Manhattan:
- The Feast of San Gennaro at the Jersey Shore takes over Belmar for two days on Sept. 18 and 19, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. A mass of San Gennaro at St. Rose Catholic Church kicks things off with a mass presented in Italian on Saturday at 10 a.m., followed by a procession down Main Street. The cannoli-eating contest takes place on Saturday 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. 12.
- 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.
- The Urban Lens: A walk through the 90th annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy
- The Giglio Feast: History, fun facts, and what to expect at this year’s celebration in Brooklyn
- The Italian side of Williamsburg: History, famous joints, and today’s culture
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on September 11, 2019, and has since been updated.
Tags : Feast of San Gennaro
Neighborhoods : little italy