New York’s City’s largest festival, The Feast of San Gennaro, begins this Thursday, September 12th and runs for 11 days until September 22nd, 2019. This year marks the festival’s 93rd anniversary since it began in 1926, when groups of Italian immigrants settled in what is now known as New York City’s “Little Italy.

The New York City festival, an 11-day salute to the patron saint of Naples, is run by Figli di San Gennaro (Children of San Gennaro), a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the spirit and faith of the early Italian community. More than one-million people from around the world flock to the Feast of San Gennaro to participate in the parades, religious processions, musical performances — and, of course, to chow down on the variety of Italian foods offered. The festival takes place on Mulberry Street from Canal Street up to Houston (along with some extensions along Grand Street and Hester Street). So that you don’t miss out on any of the excitement, we’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 things Not to Miss at the Feast of San Gennaro:

1. The 22nd Annual Cannoli Eating Competition

Image courtesy Figli di San Gennaro

The feast’s 22nd annual cannoli eating competition with cannolis from Ferrara Bakery. The contest will begin on Friday, September 13th at 1:00pm. If cannolis aren’t your favorite Italian dessert, you can also take part in the zeppole-eating showdown on Wednesday, September 18th at 1:00pm. To sign up, call 212-764-6330.

2. Blessing of the Stands

The Blessing of the Stands will occur on opening day of the feast, September 12th from 6:00pm until 7:00pm. During this event, Parish Priest Msgr Cassato parades through the festival blessing all of the shops, restaurants, vendors, and merchants so that they may have an enjoyable and successful feast. He goes along the route stretching along Mulberry Street, between Canal and Houston Streets, blessing each stall to bring success and grace. The Blessing of the Stands is meant to kick-start the joyous week to come.

3. The Grand Procession

Image courtesy Figli di San Gennaro

The Roman Catholic Grand Procession of the festival will take place on September 14th. This year, the Grand Marshal is Grand Marshal Steve Schirripa (The Sopranos, Blue Bloods). Schirripa follows actor and standup comedian Vic Dibitetto and Tony Danza, who were the last two year’s Grand Marshals. The parade presents various floats, traditional dress from regions across Italy, and gondolas. It will be accompanied by numerous marching bands, such as Cathedral All Girls High School, The Giglio Band, Red Mike Festival Band and the Xavier Marching Band.

As part of the procession, The Statue of San Gennaro will be carried from its permanent home in the Most Precious Blood Church through the streets of Little Italy.

4. 3rd Annual Meatball Eating Contest

For those who cannot stomach an overload of sweets, the festival of San Gennaro will also host a meatball eating contest. Newer to the festival than the cannoli eating competition, the 3rd annual meatball eating contest will begin at 1:00pm on Saturday, September 21st. To sign up 212-764-6330.

5. Opera Night

New Yorkers won’t have to head to the Metropolitan Opera House for their dose of music. The festival will present the 24th Annual Enrico Caruso Opera Night on September 16th from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Some of the performers include: Marie Anello, Francesca Caviglia, Cheryl Warfield, Valeria Chibisova and Diana Marie Paunetto — all extremely talented and unique vocalists.

6. Good Omen Announcement

On the morning of September 19th, Saint Gennaro’s Feast Day, the hosts of the festival will announce the liquefaction of San Gennaro’s 1,713 year-old blood at the church where it is kept: the Naples Cathedral in Italy. The blood of San Gennaro, who died in 305 A.D., is kept in a vial and liquefies three times a year.

When the dark brown blood crystals liquefy quickly, it is seen as a good omen of things to come. However, if the blood fails to liquefy (or if it takes hours/days to do so), it is a signal of “impending disaster.”

7. Solemn High Mass

The Solemn High Mass celebrates the Patron Saint of Naples, Januarius. It is held at Little Italy’s Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood (113 Baxter Street), and will begin at 6:00 PM on September 19th.

8. Live Musical Performances

Vito Picone. Image courtesy Figli di San Gennaro

In addition to Opera Night, the Feast of San Gennaro will have many nights of live musical performances. The artists include Johnny Mandolin (playing at September 12th at 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm), Free Pass (also at 7:30 PM on September 12th), The Chicklets (September 18th at 7:30pm), and more. There will also be a Neapolitan Concert, Mulberry Street the Musical and children’s entertainment.

Concerts will be on the stage at Grand and Mott Streets.

9. Notable Stands to Check Out

Besides the most famous Little Italy spots, like Ferrara’s Bakery, don’t miss the following stands:

  • Danny Fratta from Danny on the Corner, known for their Zeppole which has been made with a special recipe passed down by his great uncle.
  • Karren King at Alleva Dairy, the oldest cheese shop in the US and the widow of Cha Cha who was the unofficial mayor of little Italy and who the meatball eating competition is in honor of. Tony Danza is a co-owner of Alleva, and is usually on hand for the Feast of San Gennaro (although this year he won’t be). 
  • Ernest Magliato at Pips Pit, amazing sausage and peppers
  • Lucy at Lucy’s Sausage and Peppers, equally as amazing sausage and peppers stand – she even take hers around to all the major food festivals.
  • Lou Di Palo at Di Palos, seriously amazing authentic shop for authentic Italian meats, cheeses, olive oil and more.

10. Check out the Creepy Catacombs

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, which, as of late 2010, became the only basilica in Manhattan, stands on Mulberry Street, between Prince and Houston. Many members of the faith were enclosed in brick and cement crypts. In the lower level of this historic landmark is a labyrinth of vaults for bodies. They belonged largely to the wealthy—to bankers, lawyers, captains of industry, merchants, and even to Civil War-era generals. To this day, the cathedral serves as a spiritual centerpiece to the Little Italy neighborhood, and its leadership is known to have creative and unique initiatives, like having sheep “lambscape” the cemetery.

Next, read about the Crypts and Catacombs of Little Italy: What’s Buried in Manhattan’s Only Basilica.