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Festa Italiana 2023

When I was a child growing up in Buffalo, NY, we (the Scots-Irish Henry family) lived between the Beliotti’s and the Campofelice’s. On the other side of the Campofelice home were the Drury’s and the Cochrane’s. Around the corner were the Hirschmiller’s and Frank’s. I’ve often thought back on those days, and how my mother learned to make delicious spaghetti sauce from the women of the Belliotti and Campofelice households. The Hirschmiller’s had a puppy, Hoopie, that we kids loved to play with. We had no idea at the time that we were living, in a way, the essence of the American ideal. Families from different cultures and backgrounds, sharing their stories, histories, foods, and day to day lives with one another – and taking delight in what they learned.

Twenty-five years ago, Ginnie Lostumbo and Linda DeFrancisco were approached by members of the Italian community here in Syracuse and asked if they would spearhead the planning and organization of a festival dedicated to sharing the rich Italian heritage they so enjoyed with the whole of the city. No doubt with both eagerness and trepidation, they jumped in. And they must have been doing something right, because all these years later, the Festa Italiana is one of the most anticipated outings in a Syracuse summer – and why it has been, for several years, voted by the public as the recipient of the “Best Ethnic Festival” award.

When I asked Ginnie about this year’s fest, she stressed one very important message: thank you!

Festa Italiana, she said, wants to thank the sponsors, vendors, and volunteers who have put this festival on these past 25 years. She wanted to note some important names of community members who have been mainstays of the fest: Sam Rotondo, Marie Felice, Anthony Fiacchi, James Reale, Art Palermo, Jim Lauri and Bill Solomone. She also wished to mention Julian and Terry Charles, Carol Stockham, John Cerrone, The Charles Family, Fabrizi Family, and John Marshall, who have been part of the Festa from the beginning.

As always, she expresses the deep appreciation felt for the many sponsors who step up and make this free festival possible, and to the many vendors whose culinary and other talents are on display to be enjoyed by all. Ginnie noted that this year, the fest is honoring 3 food vendors who have been part of the festa from the beginning. 

She wanted to thank the volunteers for the fest, who range from teens up through a centenarian (102 to be exact!) and who contribute so much time and talent to making the fest fun for all who attend.

But mainly, she said, the festival wants to thank the community. The goal was to present the Italian heritage of the many families who crossed the ocean over the years to make a new life here in the United States, and share it with the public. Judging by the numbers of people who attend every year, and look forward to the fun, the food, the music, and heritage, the public has been delighted.

Ginnie urged me to remind you to visit the Heritage display, located across the street in the Atrium at City Hall Commons where there will be cooking lessons, heritage displays and presentations. Professors of Italian will be teaching Italian language classes. If you haven’t stopped in before, this is one part of the festival I would recommend you see. From maps of Italy marking points of origin, family photos, memorabilia and bits of lore that tell you so much about the people who came to Syracuse over the years and made it their home.

And this year, you can expect all of your old favorites, and a few surprises. Both the main and small stages will entertain you throughout the days and evenings, and as usual, strolling minstrels Paulo & Felice will walk the grounds for your listening pleasure. Ginnie told me that while over the years the Festa has showcased entertainment from all over, another “thank you” to the community is this year’s focus on our wealth of local talent. “Opera, country, rock and roll, Italian ballads – we have it all. After the pandemic, we felt it was important to support our local talent, and there certainly is plenty of it!” she said.

“In 1998, the first Mass of the festival,” Ginnie told me, “Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral, with a large procession, and flags from every region in Italy were carried. Since then, the Sunday outdoor Mass has been celebrated on the main stage at 11am, and will be offered this year by Bishop Douglas Lucia and Father Dan Caruso.”

The Bocce Tournament will feature competing teams as well as The Special Olympics Bocce teams. You can try your language skills with Italian Bingo (that’s numbers and letters, everyone!). Contestants are already practicing their meatball-devouring skills for the Charity Meatball Challenge. And this year, the Festa introduces its first Children’s Talent Showcase to be held Sunday at 1pm, featuring kids ages 4-12.

And as always, the Festa Italiana says “thank you” to its Syracuse home by giving back: proceeds from the festival have gone to many causes, including 9/11, the Red Cross, and national disasters. Our mission is to give back to local non-profit organizations. Last year alone we made donations to Make a Wish, Clear Path for Veterans, Food Bank of CNY, Joseph House for Women, Samaritan Center, and ARC of Onondaga. 

“Everyone is Italian at the festival,” Ginnie remarked, “and we’re all here to celebrate how much Italians love family, food and fun. But among our volunteers, sponsors, vendors, and visitors every nationality is represented. There are always at least 3 generations of families coming to the festival, and that can make all of us proud! Our heritage is the most important thing we have – we must not lose it. I invite everyone to come to this year’s Festa Italiana to enjoy our Italian culture and traditions.”

Festa Italiana 2023

September 15, 16, and 17, 2023

In front of City Hall, Downtown Syracuse


Friday 9/15 –  11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m,
Saturday 9/16 – 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday 9/17 – 12:00 noon – 7:00 p.m.

Sunday Mass – 11:00 AM Main Stage.
Bishop Douglas Lucia and
Father Dan Caruso will celebrate mass.

Nancy Roberts