A Feast for All Ages

By Champayne Brown

Every year for 11 days straight nearly one million people from all around New York City invade the streets of Little Italy in Lower Manhattan. The San Gennaro Feast is an Italian-American festival that takes place from September 13 to 23. Italian immigrants began the festival in 1926 as a block party. Today the event pays homage to the Roman Catholic saint of Naples, Saint Januarius.

The event features raw clams, grilled sausage and peppers, fried pickles, fried Oreos, cannoli, and more. There are arts and crafts for children and beer, wine, and margarita for adults. On the second day, elaborate floats and marching bands fill the streets for the Grand Procession and the San Gennaro Statue is displayed.

“I love this feast! The food is amazing,” said Aneesah Merced. “It can get a bit crowded but it’s worth it, and the cannolis make up for it. I use to bring my daughter here. Her high school was not too far. That was over five years ago, we’ve come every year since.”

The drinks were surprisingly good too, added her husband Jermaine. “I didn’t expect to taste a good beer out of a street fair, but I was wrong. It’s not expensive to eat, and if it’s too crowded to get something on one block they have the same exact thing on the next.”

The Feast of San Gennaro along Grand Street in 1981 (Bill Golladay)

The feast has attracted so much attention that even celebrities have made their way to see what it’s about. Last year Tony Danza was a celebrity judge for the meatball eating contest. This year performances included Opera Night and Jenna Esposito, who is known as “ The Voice of Little Italy,” according to her official website.

Although the feast focuses on food, it is also a time give back. The feast hosts a blood drive sponsored by the Red Cross.

Similar events have taken place in Fordham and Belmont in the Bronx to highlight the contributions of Italian Americans.

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