A giant bowl of pasta, lively parades, soulful music and paper flowers are among the ways the Italian American community in New Orleans celebrates the feast of St. Joseph.
Friday, March 18
The Italian American Marching Club presents the “World’s Largest Pasta Dish” at 11:45 a.m., in the New Orleans Hilton (2 Poydras St., 2nd floor, grand ballroom, New Orleans 70130). Weighing 500 pounds, this enormous serving of pasta con sarde (pasta with a sardine sauce), will be distributed by The Club’s honorees.
They include Joseph Siravo, best known for his role as Tony Soprano’s father on “The Sopranos”; Joseph Zolfo, the producer of “NCIS New Orleans”; and Michael Badalucco, an actor from “The Practice”; among others. During this free event, patrons can sip chianti while listening to the musical stylings of Lena Prima.
Later in the day, at 5:30 p.m., the Sansepolcro Flag Throwers perform in Piazza d’Italia (377 Poydras St., New Orleans 70130). Reviving a Renaissance tradition, the flag throwers wear uniforms bearing historical significance, and perform intricate routines that involve twirling and throwing a flag. At one point, two men “fight” with the flags. These rituals date back to the 1500s, when flag bearers led Italian armies into battle. The flag was also used as a weapon.
The performance group, who is visiting from Sansepolcro, Italy, will march alongside trumpeters during the St. Joseph Parade on Saturday.
“It’s really colorful and unique — something you never see here in the United States,” said Frank Maselli, the chairman of the Italian Cultural Center.
Saturday, March 19
The 46th annual St. Joseph Parade rolls at 6 p.m., lending an Italian flair to the French Quarter, for one night.
“The whole purpose of our organization is to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph and express pride in our heritage, and we do it by having a parade,” said Judge Anthony Russo, the co-founder of the Italian American Marching Club. The parade features 500 amorous marchers distributing “everything you’d get in a Mardi Gras parade, with an Italian American accent” and, of course, kisses.
“If you are lucky, you can get a kiss from a genuine Italian, and you get a rose in return,” said Russo. The crew will also hand out lucky beans, but Russo warned that the beans only work for one year.
“No one tells you that your luck is over. Usually something unfortunate will happen,” he explained. “It’s your duty to know when it ends.”
More than a dozen floats, separated by bands, carry Italian American maids. One float resembles a St. Joseph’s altar, displaying the traditional foods served on St. Joseph’s Day.
Sunday, March 20
The 34th annual Louisiana Irish-Italian Parade begins near the Clearview Mall at noon, and takes the concept of throwing edible items to a new level.
Jason Renton, the vice president of the Louisiana Irish-Italian Association, revealed that riders will toss produce and packages of macaroni and cheese, along with Italian bread and king cake from Cartozzo’s Bakery in Kenner. Other throws include bars of Irish Spring soap and beads. Walking groups will add to the merriment that attracts families from around the southeast Louisiana region.
“The crowds that we have are great … it’s a family atmosphere where we have a mixture of the older people with the younger,” said Renton.
Saturday, April 16
Boasting more than 50 decorative floats created by Blaine Kern, the 15th annual St. Bernard Irish Italian Isleños Community Parade & Marching Club begins at noon, near the St. Bernard Civic Center. The Isleños were Spanish settlers from the Canary Islands who founded what is now known as St. Bernard Parish.
Riders will distribute cabbages, bananas, oranges, and pineapples, along with beer koozies, tote bags, and Frisbees bearing The Club’s logo. They will also toss t-shirts emblazoned with this year’s theme — Salute to Service, America’s Heroes.
In keeping with this theme, one float will carry men and women from various branches of the military. The grand marshal is Jim Mora, a former Saints coach and U.S. Marine. The king is Thomas Stone, a former member of the U.S. Navy who has served as the St. Bernard fire chief for 26 years. Dance groups, marching clubs, and Jazz bands also participate in this multicultural celebration.
“Everyone from St. Bernard comes to the parade, but it also brings back everybody who has ties to St. Bernard, or who used to live here before the storm,” said Chad O’Neill, the president of the organization. “It’s good to see faces that you haven’t seen in a while.”