Little Italy, Big Festival

The Feast of San Gennaro celebrates its 96th anniversary with cultural activities, history, and food



This year marks the 96th year of celebration of the Feast of San Gennaro.

By Anna Schurr

I hopped on the C train, rode a couple of stops downtown, and there I was, at the Feast of San Gennaro. Only in New York City could one subway ride transport you to a place so full of culture that you felt as if you were in a different country.

The Feast of San Gennaro is a longtime tradition, and this marks the 96th year of its celebration. Colloquially, it is known as “the feasts of all feasts.” 

This tradition began in the 1920s by Italian immigrants whose passion for their culture needed to be expressed as they longed to celebrate their Italian heritage. The feast started as a one-day celebration honoring the patron saint of Naples and has since transformed into an 11-day feast that no New Yorker would dream of missing.  

From Sept. 15-25, the feast stretches 12 blocks throughout Little Italy. Located along Mulberry Street, Hester Street, and Grand Street, it is hard to miss. 

Being a first-timer at the festival, I had no idea what to expect. At first glance, I noticed the overwhelming number of people walking on Mulberry Street. Since I attended the feast midweek, this came as a shock. I can’t imagine how packed a Friday or Saturday night must be. The excited crowd filled me with hope that the feast would be worthwhile.  

I thought it would be impossible for Little Italy to be filled with even more Italian culture than usual, but I was quickly proven wrong. The lights and banners hanging from one side of the street to the other made for an extravagant celebration.  

No one was going home hungry from the Feast of San Gennaro.

The mood was high; music was playing; food was cooking; and people were eating. The live Italian music playing through the streets set the tone for a great night. The age range varied from small children to college kids to middle-aged and older adults. The festival had something for everyone. 

Classic carnival games including the ringtoss and balloon blast occupied their typical audience; the various jewelry sellers kept their customers happy; and anyone looking for a cigar was definitely more than content. But what everyone shared was a zest for authentic Italian food. 

No one was going home hungry from the Feast of San Gennaro. An overwhelming amount of food filled every direction one could turn. The aesthetically pleasing outdoor dining stations on the sidewalk of each Italian restaurant kept people occupied with options. I chose to dine at the various food trucks and stands that lined the perimeters of the streets. Not only are food trucks a popular dining option, but they’re also an affordable one, which is an essential factor for a college student like me. These trucks and stands served iconic Italian cuisine that would satisfy any pizza, pasta or meatball lover.  

The highlight of my evening had to be my cannoli from the famous Cannoli King. Though the obnoxiously long line ate up a good chunk of my night, the perfect cannoli was well worth the wait. Other desserts like gelato and zeppoles were in high demand as well.  

Unfortunately, I missed out on the many food-eating contests organized throughout the celebration. The contests showcased those who can inhale pizza, meatballs and zeppoles like no other.  

But there is always next year, and I plan to be a frequent attendee of the festival for years to come. I encourage you to go as well. This must-see NYC experience is definitely one to add to your bucket list.