January in San Francisco marks the month of food, for food lovers, experts, and professionals. In fact, once again, the Moscone Center was home to...
Last weekend, at the boisterous intersection of Hollywood and Highland, thousands gathered for three days of live music, food, wine, rides, and games at the 13th annual Feast of San Gennaro. The savory smells of Italian sausage and warm cheese melting on thin pizza permeated the air as guests indulged in baked clams on the half shell and sugar-powdered zeppole.
The feast is modeled after New York’s annual San Gennaro Feast celebrating the Neapolitan Saint Januarius, or San Gennaro. San Gennaro was the bishop of Benevento around 300 A.D. during the Christian persecution. He was arrested for boldly visiting Christian prisoners in jail and was brutally punished by Emperor Timoteo.
Gennaro effortlessly dodged multiple tortures and murder attempts, including escaping from a blazing furnace unscathed. He was decapitated on September 19th, 305 A.D. and is honored as a fearless, heroic saint. A woman named Eusebia collected Gennaro’s blood in glass vials and buried him in a secluded location. The persecution of Christians ended with Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D., and Neapolitans shortly began collecting the remains of their martyred Saint, displaying glass vials of San Gennaro’s blood in sacred places.
In Naples on his Annual Feast Day, the activities begin at 9:00A.M. with a novena, followed by traditional ceremonies. A gold ring with a cross containing the martyred Saint’s vials of blood are placed on the altar for all to see. Churchgoers then pray for the miraculous liquefaction of San Gennaro’s blood. In America, we handle San Gennaro festivals a tad differently. The bigger, the better. The place was bleeding green, red, and white. There were five thousand Italian flags and shot glasses saying “Italia”. We even had giant mozzarella and tomato mascots walking around in true Disneyland or baseball game fashion. Perhaps the most comic ensemble was the “Bada bing bingo” tables juxtaposed next to the fish eyed festival ride designed for five year olds, both sponsored by Uncle Frank’s Helping Hand.
In addition to all the pizzazz, the LA Feast kept some of the classic meaningful stuff. On Saturday morning, many gathered for Catholic mass on the main stage with Monsignor Antonio Cacciapuoti. The elaborately designed bust of San Gennaro was on display for all to admire. When mass finished, the Grandsons of Italy hoisted the statue onto their shoulders and led guests in a traditional procession along the festival.
Everyone proudly marched to the beat of Italian chants, including the multi-lingual charter school kids from Glendale who performed. Vonnie at the “Italian Gifts and Novelties” booth describes the passion and intense dedication that go into the festival. “All the set up involved is like waiting and excitedly preparing for the birth of a child. It’s so exciting. But then it’s like a funeral when the feast ends. We are anticipating and waiting, then over three days it grows up and is beautiful, then dies,” he said.
“It’s so important to our community because we come here to connect with our roots. Most of us here are Calabrese and Sicilian, so it gives us a chance to reconnect like a family coming together,” Vonnie expanded.
The feast was indeed a great community affair, with many local businesses and volunteer organizations stepping up to support Italian culture. Sponsors included the San Gennaro Society, Christ the King Church, Uncle Frank’s Helping Hand Foundation, Be the Match Marrow Registry, and various local Blood Drives.
The most prominent sponsor was Galbani Cheese. There was a grand cheese booth with mozzarella, tomato, and basil kebabs, as well as a spinning cheese wheel with grand prizes.
From actor Don Most of Happy Days, to popular Las Vegas vocalist Mark Giovi, who performed on Friday at the opening Prima Notte, the Feast featured a wide variety of live performances to please the whole family.
This fun-filled weekend included a “Gravy-Sauce” competition hosted by the Meatballs of Comedy, a bocce ball section, and a petting zoo for children.
As Mons. Cacciapuoti said after Holy Mass, “Viva San Gennaro! Buona festa a tutti!”