Every September, the historic New York City neighborhood of Little Italy puts on an 11-day street festival known as the annual Feast of San Gennaro—also called "The Feast" for short. Originally a religious ceremony to commemorate the Patron Saint of Naples, the feast is now a fun-filled gut-busting attraction that welcomes everybody to enjoy the flavors of Italian-American culture. Here you'll find all kinds of Italian food from the classic sausage and pepper sandwiches to deep-fried zeppoles, shucked clams from Umbertos Clamhouse, and cannolis from Ferrara's Bakery.
The 94th Annual San Gennaro Feast's street celebration has been postponed until 2021. However, the Solemn High Mass and Procession will still take place on September 19, 2020.
The day was first celebrated in New York City on September 19, 1926, by newly arrived immigrants from Naples. The Feast of San Gennaro was a traditional celebration in Naples for Saint Gennaro, who became a martyr in the year 305. Long celebrated in Italy, immigrants who settled along Mulberry Street in Lower Manhattan continued the celebration in the U.S.
Attracting as many as one million people to Little Italy every year, the festival usually takes place in the second and third week of September, but September 19 is a particularly religious day. After a celebratory mass at the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood on Mulberry Street, the statue of San Gennaro is carried from the church through the streets of Little Italy in a procession. Throughout the festival, you'll find parades, daily live music, street food stands, and al fresco dining at some of the neighborhood's finest Italian restaurants like Grotta Azzura.
Getting to the Feast of San Gennaro
You'll find the main festivities on Mulberry street south of Houston Street and north of Canal Street. The best way to get there is via public transportation and you'll find the closest subway stops at either Springs Street, via the 6 train, or Prince Street, via the N or R trains. You may also consider taking a taxi or using a ride share service, but it's not recommended to drive to the feast. Parking is both difficult to find and expensive.
What to Do at the Feast
The first thing you'll want to do at the Feast of San Gennaro, or any other time you find yourself in Little Italy, is eat. However, before you start filling up on pizza and cannolis at the first stand, take some time to do a lap and assess what's there. Then, do your best to pace yourself. While the street food is the highlight of visiting the feast, you may also want to sit down at one of the restaurants on Mulberry Street, some of which may be offering special menu items for the event. This is a good opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere while sitting down, but don't forget to save room for dessert.
Between meals and snacks, you can also try your luck at some of the carnival games and there will also be rides available for small children. Shops will be open and vendors will be around selling T-shirts and other souvenirs. If you'd like to be there for one of the religious processions, check the official calendar on the festival's website to see on what day and at what time these will take place. Here, you can also find out more information about the musical acts and special events like the cannoli eating contest, the meatball eating contest, and cooking demonstrations.
Know Before You Go
Before you go, keep these tips in mind to make the most out of your experience at the iconic feast.
- Crowds tend to be biggest on weekends and in the evening. Go on a weekday if you want to avoid them.
- If you're bringing small children, you will find it easiest to navigate the narrow streets if you wear them in a carrier, but a stroller is a good idea if you're worried about keeping track of bigger kids in the crowd.
- Festival vendors are open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.