The Feast of San Gennaro is an annual celebration of Italian-American culture and cuisine centered along Mulberry Street in Little Italy. The festival’s origins date back to September 1926, when a group of immigrants from Naples, Italy erected a small chapel on Mulberry Street to house an image in honor of Januarius, the patron saint of their hometown. Januarius is the name Gennaro in Neapolitan Italian. Individuals who came to pray to the saint were asked to pin an offering to the ribbon streamers hanging from the statue’s apron. The money gathered from the festivity was then distributed to the poor living in the neighborhood.
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. From September 15 to September 25, 2022, more than one million people from around the world are expected to 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 will occur on Mulberry Street between Canal and Houston Streets. Hester Street will also host festivities between Mott and Baxter Streets, while Grand Street will allow festivities between Mott and Center Streets.
The festival begins with the Blessing of the Stands on September 15 at 6 p.m. During this event, a Parish Priest parades through the festival blessing all of the shops, restaurants, vendors, and merchants so that they may have an enjoyable and successful feast.
A large parade called the Grand Procession will take place on September 17 at 2 p.m. If you arrive early, you will be able to see floats, celebrities, a gondola, and antique cars. The procession that honors the Armed Forces will feature a special appearance from former NASA Astronaut Michael J. Massimino and Mayor Eric Adams.
An array of eating competitions also occur throughout the festival, including the 24th Annual Cannoli Eating Champion during which contestants have eaten more than 30 cannolis in six minutes. Other competitions scheduled to take place on Mulberry Street are the 3rd Annual Zeppole Eating Contest, the 2nd Annual Pizza Eating Contest, and the 5th Annual Meatball Eating Contest.
If eating food in quick succession sounds unappealing, the Feast of San Gennaro also allows vendors to host pop up stands where festivalgoers can feast on Italian favorites including Italian meets and cheeses. Some of the most popular dishes served at the festival include sausage and peppers and zeppoles. In the past, notable stands, such as Danny on the Corner — which is known for its zeppoles — and Lucy’s Sausage — which is known for its sausage and peppers — have accrued long lines of hungry tourists and New Yorkers alike.
Musical attractions, like the 26th Annual Enrico Caruso Opera Night, also bring spectators to the festival. The list of opera singers includes Shana Farr, Jessa V. Salerno, Cheryl Warfield, Francesca Caviglia, and David Maiullo. However, the Feast of San Gennaro will include performances from Vanessa Racci and Joseph Tribuzio.
On the September 19, after a celebratory mass at the Church of the Most Precious Blood, a Grand Procession takes place — during which a statue of San Gennaro is carried from the church through the streets of Little Italy. Located at 113 Baxter Street between Canal and Hester streets, the Church of the Most Precious Blood served as a prime place of worship for New York’s growing Italian immigrant community. Today, the church is home to several religious societies in addition to the Figli di San Gennaro such as the Community of Sant Egidio, San Angelo Society, and Saint Rocco of Potenza Society.
Whether one is traveling to Mulberry Street for food, music, or religious ceremonies, the Feast of San Gennaro has the resources to please everyone. From some of the city’s oldest bakeries to the National Shrine Church of San Gennaro, Little Italy awaits festivalgoers with Italian American cultural spots and historical New York locations.
Next, check out the top 10 secrets of Little Italy!