AVAILABLE ON AMAZON – Recorded histories about The Feast of San Gennaro do not offer much detail regarding the 1960s and early 1970s other than basic facts of its existence. The Feast had not yet been fully media-exposed, and was not very well known beyond local knowledge, visiting relatives, and some adventurous tourists looking for exotic corners of the city.
Prior to the 1960s some photographs and descriptions exist – crime scenes, and other historical accounts – but one could guess that attention to this festival might have been limited due to a society distracted by the war in Vietnam, “flower people,” and politics and people in rebellion.
As an attention grabber, The Feast did not scream loudly. That would begin to change by 1974 when, commenting on its size, New York Magazine called the festival “no place for the fainthearted.”
Roughly speaking, the area of Little Italy is bordered north and south by East Houston and Canal streets, and west and east by Lafayette and Bowery. By most accounts, the Italian population of Little Italy in the twenty-first century is a fraction of what it was in the twentieth century. Today, that culture is represented mainly by a few restaurants and shops, and also by a festival, The Feast of San Gennaro.
Gennaro, the Bishop of Benevento and the patron saint of Naples, was born around 272 AD. The centerpiece of the festival is really the procession, which expresses the passion and the belief in what the Bishop has come to represent: his faith, dedication, and determination in the face of many challenges.
Gennaro’s history is a mix of fact and myth stemming from his arrest for visiting a prisoner, his avoidance of punishment, and the representation of blood saved after his execution. It is this vial of blood that forms the centerpiece of the procession on the first day of the festival.
The Feast is now presented by Figli di San Gennaro (Children of San Gennaro), a not-for-profit community organization, and takes place every year beginning September 19th. The first festival was in 1926 and has run continuously since then.