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Festa Italiana

When I heard from organizer Ginnie Lostumbo that Festa Italiana would be returning this year for a weekend of food, games, music, friends, more food, heritage, popular beverage and – yes, more great food – I had to admit wanting to stand up and cheer.

Syracuse has a happy history of sharing its many cultural roots with festivals of all kinds – Greek, Scottish, Irish, Polish, Middle Eastern, and certainly Italian. Relatively “new” in the scheme of things, Italian immigrants began to come to Syracuse (a natural, given its name) in the 1880s, eventually comprising almost 15% of the population, and quickly earning a deserved reputation for hard work, close-knit families, and cuisine that is popular with just about everyone.

Originally launched in 1996 as a fund-raiser with an aim of building an Italian Community Center, organizers (spear-headed by Ginnie Lostumbo and Linda DeFrancisco) decided to dedicate the festival’s earnings to community charities, and have shared with many organizations, including Clear Path for Veterans, Assumption Food Pantry, the Rescue Mission, and the United Way, among others. Approached by the city to make the festival a downtown event, it soon became one of the “go-to” events of the year for many, many Syracusans.

A main attraction of the Festival has become its Heritage Display in the Atrium Commons. Visitors are invited to send old family photos to share with the public, letting visitors see the many regions, faces, and stories of the families who brought a little Italy along with them when they left their homeland to make a new life. Scanned photos can be shared with jcerron1@twcny.rr.com. Make sure to include your name, the names of those pictured, and the region of Italy where they’re from.

In addition to the photo display, the Heritage Display will share pasta making, wine tasting, how to make Limoncello, and Italian Bingo (you’ve got to know your numbers in Italiano!).

Another popular event is the Bocce Tournament, which begins at 9am on Saturday, featuring men’s, women’s and mixed teams – with prizes in each event. On Friday, September 17th at 5:30 pm is the Bocce Challenge, a contest between the Bocce Judges and the Special Olympic Bocce Team playing for bragging rights and your applause.

On Friday, September 17th at 12:30 pm is the annual Charity Meatball Eating Contest in which fearless local celebrities down as many meatballs as they can – with one hand only – within sixty seconds. Cash prizes are awarded to the local charities of the winners’ choice.

Going on from roughly noon to closing will be musical entertainment of all kinds, but Ginnie stressed that this year, the music will be popular local bands, 22 of them in all. It’s been a challenging year for everyone, and that includes entertainers. The Festa is all about the community, and organizers wanted to support the rich local network of great music – from country to rock, R’n’B and oldies to Suonatores ambulanti (strolling musicians playing accordion and mandolin, Italian style). With so much talent, there’s sure to be music on the main or second stage at almost any time of the day or night that will have you on your feet. You may want to make it a point to be at the festival on Friday at 9 pm, when Prime Time Horns will play a tribute to Jimmy Cavallo.

While there won’t be a children’s tent this year, Jeff the Magic Man will be delighting the children at 2:30 and 3:30 on Saturday with his balloon art and tricks to treat kids of all ages.

On Sunday the Bishop will be celebrating an open air Mass in Italian; the Speech Family Candy Shoppe will share its sweet story; and the Festa will be honoring 15 of its foundational vendors, entertainers, and others who have made the festival such a beloved event who are remembered with fondness and appreciation.

And of course – would it be a festival without them? – your favorite vendors will be on hand to fill your day with your favorite Italian dishes, desserts, pizzas, and Italian themed treats of all kinds. New to the vendor list this year will be Thanos Import Market, a specialty shop with a Mediterranean flavor, serving small charcuterie trays and “Thanos” sandwiches. And make sure to stop by the Cheese Filled Company, and try out their cheese-stuffed Pepperoni stick!

There’s so much more – but as this article is being written, the organizers are busy adding fun to the lineup, so visit the website: http://www.festaitaliana.bizland.com/ for the latest lineup of music, food, entertainment, heritage, and more. You won’t want to miss a thing!

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