Italian-Americans pay tribute to their ethnic culture and their country in so many ways all year long. They have a good deal to be thankful for. And so does America.
More than 5.4 million emigrated to the United States from 1820 to 1992 in search of a better life. Today there are more than 26 million ethnic Italians living in the United States, making them the country's fifth-largest ethnic group. And they love to hold festivals nearly every month of the year, just as Italians do in Italy.
The Italian American Contribution
Many of these festivals focus on the cuisine that Italian-Americans have contributed to the American culinary patchwork; Italian-American heritage organizations often take the opportunity in October to introduce members and others to regional Italian cuisines, which go far beyond pasta.
Others celebrate the great art of Italy, from Michelangelo to Leonardo da Vinci. Or the great Italian innovators who have profoundly shaped American history, like explorer Christopher Columbus and geographer Amerigo Vespucci.
The Italian American Festivals
It's easy to find an Italian heritage festival. Many coincide with Columbus Day and National Italian American Heritage month in October, but there are spring and summer Italian festivals as well. If you can't make it to a festival, you can still visit Little Italy in a city near you.
Here are some great places to find Italy in the United States: the joyful, delicious Italian-American festivals held every year from March through October.
March: St. Joseph's Day is celebrated in New Orleans in early March. There's a parade organized by the Italian-American Marching Club, and St. Joseph's altars are erected around the city.
May: The Memphis Italian Festival is usually the last weekend of May and there's always plenty of amazing and unexpected Italian food on hand, as well as concerts, cooking demos, and carnival rides.
June: The North Beach Festival, usually the second or third weekend of June, is held in San Francisco's best-known Italian neighborhood. The festival itself is said to be the oldest urban street fair in the country. Activities include food stalls, arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment, street painting, a blessing of the animals and a kids' play area.
Venetian Night and Boat Parade - Chicago
July: Chicago's Venetian Night is a beautiful nighttime boat parade, modeled after boat parades in Venice itself. The parade culminates with a fireworks show.
August: In Italy, the feast of the Assumption, on August 15, is a huge holiday. And Cleveland, where there's a substantial Italian American population, celebrates Feast of the Assumption with a major festival.
September: This is the biggest festival in New York's Little Italy – a 10-day celebration of San Gennaro. With food stands, entertainment, and a cannoli-eating contest, it's the most famous Italian American celebration in America.
October: San Francisco's Italian Heritage Parade, held in North Beach on Columbus Day, has been going on since 1868 and is apparently the nation's oldest Italian Heritage Parade. (New York, did you hear that?)
October: Columbus, Ohio celebrates big on Columbus Day weekend, with a 3-day Italian Festival.
October: Again with New York? Yes, this time it's NYC's annual Columbus Day parade, with around 1 million spectators and tens of thousands of marchers.
Italian Film Festivals
Fall: Italian film festivals are held throughout the year both in the United States and other parts of the world. The top Italian film festivals outside Italy tend to be held at this time of year.