Little Italy Comes to Westchester (With a Not-So-Little Festival)
The Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro is transplanting one of New York City’s oldest cultural festivals.
Photos courtesy of Tom Pomposello & Yorktown San Gennaro Festival
The patron saint of Naples will be honored in Yorktown next week, beginning with a traditional procession on Wednesday, September 13, followed by five full days of fun, food, and good, old-fashioned community revelry.
For the uninitiated, San Gennaro was not the inspiration for a truly excellent episode of Black Mirror. Saint Januarius was a Third Century Bishop of Naples who is believed to have died a martyr for harboring Christians during the Great Persecution by Roman Emperor Diocletian. Festivals and a spirit of charity surrounding his memory and holy relics have centered around his feast day of September 16 since at least the 14th Century, with the first U.S. celebration held in New York City in 1926 by Italian immigrants who congregated on Mulberry Street in what became known as Little Italy.
Michael DiCostanzo's grandparents settled on Mulberry Street and every year he and his family helped run their sausage-and-pepper booth at the festival. After moving North into the Hudson Valley, DiCostanzo held a few smaller festivals before approaching longtime friend and Yorktown Rotarian Tom Pomposello. Working with Mary Gandolfi-Capoccia, Executive Assistant to Town Supervisor Michael Grace, the pair secured a meeting to propose the town’s own San Gennaro festival in 2015. They managed to plan the entire affair in just six weeks.
“Without the Grace administration and the support of the local community this wouldn't happen," Pomposello says.
Now in its third year, the feast has grown tremendously: Last year’s attendance was estimated at about 20,000 attendees over only four days, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who blessed the procession’s statue of Saint Januarius. The procession, which opens the festival, will this year be led by the San Gennaro Marching Band (including Town Justice Salvatore Lagonia on trumpet) and Grand Marshall Dorothea Lascala, former president of Yorktown’s Italian-American organization Circolo da Vinci.
Following Wednesday’s opening procession, a street festival full of traditional food, music, and games will be held down the length of Commerce Street from Kear Street to Downing Drive, a stretch of road which has been ceremonially renamed for the month “San Gennaro Way.”
Entertainment is set to include musical acts Class Action and headliner Louis Vanaria, live DJs, traditional Italian dance, and classic rides and games. Food is being provided by several local eateries, among them Furci’s Italian Dining and Oscar’s Italian Restaurant, who will also be serving traditional San Gennaro menu items at their primary locations throughout September. About a dozen booths will also be reserved for local charities, non-profits, and schools like St. Elizabeth Anne Seaton (always free of charge, of course). “You can only take so much from this world, you gotta give some back,” Pomposello says. “Why not give back to the less fortunate?”
In that vein, guests should definitely stop by the St. Patrick’s Church which will once again be fundraising by selling “Nonna Sorgie’s Famous Zappole, and the charity raffle where guests can support autism and childhood disability services at the Center for Discovery in Monticello, while also entering for a chance to win a 10-day trip to Italy.
The third annual Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro will be held from Wednesday, September 13 through Sunday, September 17. Guests are invited to join with family and friends in celebrating Italian heritage and local community.
“That's what the world needs right now,” Pomposello says, “a lot of love and a lot of togetherness.”