Ok, so, this post has to start off with a little bit of history otherwise, you’ll be asking, “What’s the point of the ceremony?” – “Why are they blocking off the streets?” and “Why are they carrying a plastic man?” By the way, that was said in a very annoying, high-pitched voice. Ok. So, here goes:
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
The San Gennaro feast is held in NYC each year during the month of September and has been celebrating the Italian customs and heritage for almost a century. This year marks the 90th anniversary. The 11-day feast honors San Gennaro who is the principal patron saint and protector of the city of Naples. He was persecuted and killed because of his religious beliefs and protection of his fellow Christians. After several failed attempts on his life, he was sentenced to death and was beheaded in 305 A.D. Like with many martyrs of his time, upon his death, 2 vials of his blood were collected and taken to Naples, Italy as a keepsake. Over a thousand years later, his dried blood began to liquefy. This was the first of many documented occurrences.
PRESENT DAY FESTIVITIES
His official feast day is September 19th. Many people travel to the Naples Cathedral on this day to witness the possible liquefaction of Saint Januarius’ (Gennaro) blood. I know, I know, that sounds a little morbid, but this allows people to pay tribute to his memory. It is known as the “miracle of the blood”. Currently, this ceremony happens 3 times a year in Naples, Italy—the first Sunday in May (commemorating the arrival of the relics to Naples), September 19th (the Saint’s feast day) and on December 16th (celebrating his support of Naples). People gather with hopes that each year the blood will transform from coagulated to a melted form within the sealed glass vial.
THE CELEBRATION IN NEW YORK
The NY festival is hosted in Little Italy, where most of the early Italian immigrants called home. It takes place on Mulberry street (Houston – Canal street) from 11:30AM-11:00PM during the week and closes at 12:00AM each Friday and Saturday evening.
Here you will find food, fashion and fun traditional meals like meatballs, pasta, and sausage along with desserts such as cannolis, gelato and my favorite, zeppole (deep-fried dough with powdered sugar). There is deep-fried everything: pickles, Oreos and lots more, oh, so much more. You’ll definitely need your Tums.
Along the closed-off 6-block strip, you’ll be able to eat, play carnival games and shop for clothing, jewelry, and housewares. In addition, you can also enjoy musical and other performances from 7:00-9:30PM each evening on the Festival Stage located at Grand and Mott Street. It’s like a block party on steroids. There is even a blood drive, which is a nice connection to San Gennaro and a great way to help others. Like in Italy, on September 19th, after mass is held at the Most Precious Blood Church, the statue of Saint Gennaro is carried through the streets of New York to honor this Bishop.
CREATING OUR OWN CUSTOMS
My friends and I have made our own tradition and have attended the festival for the last 5 or 6 years. We jump right in and experience it all. We don’t leave until we’ve fed our faces, tried a variety of desserts and have sat in the “Big” Chair ($10 including the frame). I know! We can just use our cell phones to take pictures and we definitely do that, but Rose Ann’s chair, well, the chair is a tradition.
What I like most about my friends is that we could not see each other for 100 years, meet up and it would be as if we saw each other the day before and today was no exception. We met at our usual spot, the corner of Mulberry and Prince and worked our way South. Being typical chicks, we started off at a jewelry booth and bought a few things there. Of course, we bargained a little to make it fun (vendors hike up the prices during the festival). Like a carnival, the feast has rides, games, and shows. Speaking of high prices, the games cost us $10 for 3 balls. That’s a bit steep, but so much fun. So, I guess you can say it was worth every penny. Plus, he did give us each free necklaces. I guess that is the loser’s prize.
We had dinner at Capri. My ravioli was just ok, but I tasted Dave’s clams and although I don’t like seafood, they were yummy in my tummy. In my opinion, the best Italian food in that area is Osteria Morini: I start off with cured meats, cheeses, spreads and bread, I then move on to Cappelletti—a truffled ricotta with prosciutto and butter—and then I bring it home with their olive oil gelato. The end!
After dinner, we headed over to Ferrara Bakery and danced on the street as we ate our gelato and cannolis. We dropped it like it was hot – or maybe just lukewarm.
The next day, I dragged Lauren with me to the feast and got a sausage at Johnny Fasullo’s on the corner of Mulberry and Grand. I go there every year for lunch and follow it with a bag of zeppoles. I usually buy the zeppole at a booth where I see that they were just taken out of the fryer. This year they were just as good as ever. I got them at La Bella Ferrara (est. 1970) – not to be confused with Ferrara Bakery (est. 1892). Now, that’s a long time.
It is definitely less crowded during the day. So, if you can leave work early one day and play a little hooky (I’m not talking to anyone under 18), definitely do so.
Go! But don’t go with extremely high expectations. Go with the thought that you are going to go experience something new, different or old (if you’ve been there before) and enjoy time with your family and/or friends.
It’s where they shot the early scenes for the Godfather Part II for God’s sake so go check it out!
Listen, it’s definitely not what it used to be (first went in the early 90s), but I look forward to the feast. I look forward to hanging with my crazy friends and roaming the streets of Little Italy. It is perfect for that. It’s an excuse to get together, laugh and fill our bellies, as we have a “taste” of Italy.
Click HERE to see a video of our shenanigans.