The thick, savory, heady smell of sausage fills the air on every corner. Bright lights shine even brighter against the night sky, adorning green, white, and red tinsel wrapped around wires that hang every few feet. Different genres of music, from pop to traditional to carnival jingles, mix with the laughter and conversations of those in attendance. They are relaxed. They are joyful. Mulberry Street is alive with a festive, diverse crowd, but for 11 days on this street, everyone is Italian.
The 89th annual Feast of San Gennaro is held in Little Italy this year from September 10 through September 20. It is a celebration of faith and to salute the Patron Saint of Naples, San Gennaro, but it is also a lively gathering to enjoy time with family and friends, eat copious amounts of food, and listen to Italian and mainstream music.
There are food stands, carnival games, restaurants, and beverage stands crowding next to each other on the 11 blocks the feast occupies. Attendees pack themselves like sardines into the small space between vendors, moving at a slow, snail-like pace that wouldn’t be accepted anywhere else in New York City. Vendors fight for the attention of the traveling guests.
“Come get your sausage and peppers!”
“Have a nice cold scoop of gelato!”
“Take a chance shooting darts at the balloons!”
“Fried calamari! Broccoli rabe! Pasta! Braciole! We have it all!”
Restaurants on the blocks of the parade take advantage of the sales boost. They set up tables on the street underneath canopies wrapped with heavenly twinkle lights, creating a romantic setting. Taormina’s decorates their surrounding scaffolding with flowers and vines, roses and daisies. A few entrepreneurs make their own business; an old man plays his red accordion to restaurant patrons, accepting any tips. A woman goes table-to-table passing out bright red roses with long stems, profiting off the romantic atmosphere. Near some of the restaurants, a Ferris wheel adds more bright lights to the sky and towers over the usual carnival rides and games run by cunning carnies.
“Come on, I’ll let you throw the first ball in for free. If you make it in, you won’t win a prize but you can play another round for $3 if you think you got it in ya,” the carnie yells over the giggles and screams coming from the nearby drop ride. He smirks from ear-to-ear at the naïve children who accept this dare, knowing that he will make the money and they won’t win the prize as they attempt to throw a spiky green ball into a rigged large pink basket. They don’t win.
At the end of the festival, the modest brick rectory of the Most Precious Blood Church looms on the corner of Mulberry Street and Canal Street. A large steel arch with gold trim welcomes guests to view the centerpiece of the feast – the National Shrine of San Gennaro. Draped in lights with a large cross guarding the shrine on top, the patron saint holds up his hand and blesses those around him. The religious symbol might get lost in the excitement and festivities of the crowd, but it will always be there to welcome guests with open arms or bid them farewell until next year.