While famous for its abundant opportunities to overindulge in food and drink, Little Italy's Feast of San Gennaro is at heart a religious festival, a celebration of the Patron Saint of Naples. On September 19, 1926, immigrants from Naples who lived along Mulberry Street decided to maintain their homeland tradition of honoring San Gennaro on his saint's day. Over the years, the feast has expanded in duration from one day to several days with multiple events and, of course, many chances for feasting.
|First day of the 85th Feast of San Gennaro, Mulberry Street, Little Italy. September 15, 2011|
|A waiter awaits customers a the Feast of San Gennaro, Mulberry Street, Little Italy|
|Looking north on Mulberry, with the Empire State Building in the distance.|
This year's festival began on Thursday, a day that coincided with the passage of a pronounced cold front. During my walk down Mulberry Street, the winds started whipping around from the north, and brief showers sent festival-goers to shelter under street awnings. Fortunately, dozens of Italian restaurants had set up covered dining areas along the street.
|Showers arrive with a cold front. Mulberry Street.|
|It rained off and on. These empty tables would be full by the dinner hour.|
|The Feast of San Gennaro evokes al fresco dining traditions in Italy.|
If you go to San Gennaro, go hungry. For those with strong stomachs, here's your chance to feast on fried oreos, pizza, cannoli, daiquiris, homemade wines, gyros, fried oysters, Italian sausages, pignoli cookies, cheese steaks, zeppole, calzones, and clams. You get the picture. Don't forget to also absorb the street atmosphere of the timeless tenement buildings, the many waiters and restaurant managers cajoling passerby into their restaurants, the classical if sometimes garish restaurant decor, the sideshows (including the spectacle of a headless woman?), the stereotyped T-shirts for sale, the midway games to win a New Yankees bear or a bowl with a live fish. Come with others or come alone. It's easy to meet people at San Gennaro, especially waiters.
On Saturday, September 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. on Grand Street between Mulberry and Mott Streets, a gala birthday celebration will include Italian music and a six-foot birthday cake created by Ferrara's Bakery.
|San Gennaro in the courtyard of the Most Precious Blood Church, 109 Mulberry Street.|
Donations provide services and opportunities for young people on the Lower East Side
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To understand the religious foundations of the community festival, be sure to visit the Most Precious Blood Church at 109 Mulberry. The church houses the National Sanctuary of San Gennaro. An explanation of the miracles attributed to the saint's blood, the so-called liquefaction, is beyond the expertise of this blog, but a visit to the church should help fill in any missing information. On Monday, September 19, the Official Feast Day will be commemorated at 5 p.m. with a mass, followed by a religious procession at 6 p.m. in which the statue of San Gennaro is carried through the streets. The Grand Procession on Saturday, September 24 at 2 p.m. involves a parade with floats, marching bands, and entertainers.
|Historic Mulberry Street, Little Italy. Feast of San Gennaro|
View Feast of San Gennaro in a larger map
The 85th annual Feast of San Gennaro continues through September 25, 2011. Location and hours: Mulberry Street, Hester Street and Grand Street, from 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays). See the official website for complete information.
|rain on Mulberry Street|
I can't wait to go back on a cool crisp night. That could be tonight.
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from the afternoon of September 15, 2011.