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Festa Italiana

When you think of “heritage,” what comes to mind? For most of us, it’s the foods, the music, the traditions that have been handed down to us from our parents, grandparents and generations before them. Each culture that is part of the weave of the greater “American” fabric has given us these gifts from the many places and people who have joined us, and brought with them these treasures.

One way we share our heritage is through festivals. Syracuse is no stranger to festivals —Greek, Scottish, Irish, Polish, Middle Eastern— but one of the longest running, and most beloved for great food and fun, is the Festa Italiana. It marks the end of “Festival Season” for the city, taking place in mid-September. This year, the Festival will run Friday through Sunday, September 13, 14, and 15.

Something over 20 years ago, some members of the Syracuse Italian community had an idea to build an Italian Community Center. But eventually, the organizers decided that their fund-raising mechanism —a festival— could be better dedicated to relieving the poverty and need within the community and focused on feeding the hungry. When they are able, they help fund areas in need within the local community, including the Food Bank, and other local food pantries, along with a host of additional charitable projects and foundations. The initial Italian Festival, spear-headed by Ginnie Lostumbo and Linda DeFrancisco, was approached by the city about moving the festival to the downtown area, and they readily agreed. And soon it became one of the most popular of Syracuse ethnic celebrations of food, culture, music, and history.

The Festival is a volunteer effort (as many as 300 Syracusans pitch in), and recruits from every age and talent, from seniors to students, and attracts many local restaurants that serve the Italian treats we all have come to enjoy. (Yes, we in the Northeast are spoiled with some of the finest Italian cuisine in the US!) If the food really is your thing enjoy watching the Charity One Handed Meatball eating contest at 12:30 on Friday. Each contestant will be participating for a local charity, the winning charity receiving $500, and each of the others $100.

Another yearly favorite is a stellar lineup of entertainers, introduced by local celebrities, on both the small and large stages. The Main Stage is In front of State Office Building, the Small Stage – Key Bank Parking Lot – Fayette Street.

As a special treat, Rocco Barbato will be coming in from Las Vegas to entertain on Sunday.

And then there’s Bocce! On Friday, 9/13 at 5 p.m., local politicians compete, and then the Special Olympians challenge the Bocce Judges. And on Saturday, 8/14 at 9:00 is the open Bocce Tournament. If you’ve never played before, Sunday at noon to 2:00 p.m. there will be lessons in “The Basics of Bocce.”

After that, visit the photo booth for a commemorative free photo, sponsored by Ruffino Wine.

There’s a Children’s Tent, with games and activities organized just for the kids, and all day there will be strolling musicians dressed as Venetian Gondoliers, playing traditional music on guitar and mandolin.

But of all the things the organizers are most proud there is the Heritage Display, which will be enhanced this year as individuals to identify their city of origin on a map of Italy, and with images and items of Italian history and culture loaned by community members. Centered in the air-conditioned Atrium at the City Hall Commons (the triangular shaped building between Key Bank and the State Tower Building), there will be displays, puppets, clothing and other exhibits that tell the story of Syracuse’s Italian heritage. In addition to joining the Cayuga Museum in loaning the Festival pictures and historic items for the Heritage Display, Gregg Tripoli from the Onondaga Historical Association will share the story of Syracuse’s Italian immigrants; Jim Battaglia will show you how to make Limoncello; Laura Hand presents Memories of Italy; there will be a pasta-making demonstration; and you can take part in Italian Bingo! That’s the version of the game where the numbers are announced in Italian first, then in English, to help you learn a little Italian. Also on display will be photos of local Italian servicemen who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. In conjunction with veterans one of this year’s charitable recipients will be Clear Path for Veterans – Dogs for Vets Program.

Sunday begins at 11am with a procession and open-air Mass, and one thing you can be sure of: you will meet friends and acquaintances as you stroll the grounds and enjoy the venue. In a city named “Syracuse,” it’s one festival we can all feel part of.

Everyone involved is proud and happy to put on this traditional event – and if you see someone there in a red shirt, say “thanks,” as they’re the volunteers who make this event happen. Divertiti! (Have fun!)

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.