Italian-Americans in New Orleans and surrounding communities celebrate the feast of St. Joseph (March 19) with parades, a St. Joseph’s altar that travels through the French Quarter, and a 500-pound bowl of pasta covered with 150 gallons of meatless gravy (Mamma Mia!). These free, family-friendly events welcome everyone, whether you’re Italian or not.

Friday, March 17

The Italian American Marching Club kicks off their weekend with a free party in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Riverside Hotel (2 Poydras St., second floor, Grand Ballroom, New Orleans 70130), at 11:45 a.m.

Guests should bring an appetite, because they’ll encounter the “World’s Largest Pasta Dish.” The dish, pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardine sauce), pays homage to St. Joseph and contains bucatini pasta and sardine sauce, tossed with pine nuts, raisins, and fennel, topped with toasted breadcrumbs.

According to Peter Gilberti, the president of the Italian American Marching Club, the preparation of this massive meal is quite a spectacle.

“We yell out: ‘Bring forth the pasta!’ while the band plays ‘Che La Luna’ (by Louis Prima),” he said. Then, the kitchen staff enters the room carrying “these big, huge trays over their shoulders” and walk to the stage.

“People are clapping, singing, and drinking wine,” said Gilberti. After the pasta is placed into the bowl, they shout: “Bring forth the gravy!” The toppings are next.

Meanwhile, a band plays Italian music, and giant “walking heads”, resembling famous Italian Americans, strut across the stage.

Saturday, March 18

The 47th annual Italian American Marching Club St. Joseph Parade begins at 6 p.m., at Canal and Chartres streets, and rolls through the French Quarter. Vanessa Ferlito, from “NCIS: New Orleans”, is the grand marshal. Aubrie Ann St. Germain, a senior at Mt. Carmel Academy, is the queen.

The parade includes more than fifteen floats, marching groups, and amorous, tuxedo-clad gentlemen bestowing flowers for kisses to ladies in the crowd. The “title float” features two handmade gondolas, embellished with lights. The dazzling medieval flag-throwers from Sansepolcro, Italy perform in this parade, as well as in Sunday's Irish-Italian parade in Metairie. They’ve been performing in New Orleans for more than 30 years.

One float depicts a St. Joseph’s Altar, carrying traditional feast day foods made by local Italian families. The club’s chaplain blesses this float the morning of the event.

Float riders throw beads and trinkets, while marchers distribute blessed lucky fava beans.

“It’s believed that anyone who possesses those beans has good luck for one year,” Gilberti explained. Marchers will also hand out enamel fava beans as keepsakes.

Sunday, March 19

In the Louisiana Irish-Italian Parade, which begins at noon near Clearview Shopping Center in Metairie, float riders will toss Italian breads, made by Cortozzo’s Bakery, and other edible goods. They'll also dispense glossy beads in red and green, the colors of the Italian flag.

Joseph Lopinto, an attorney with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, is the Italian grand marshal. The Italian flag-throwers make an encore appearance after marching in Saturday's St. Joseph parade.  

Saturday, April 1

The St. Bernard Irish Italian Isleños Community Parade & Marching Club rolls at noon. They’re known for throwing an assortment of produce — from pineapples to potatoes. Italian float riders will also distribute tomato sauce, packs of pasta, and other ingredients meant for a Mediterranean feast.

Young Italian American ladies on the “Princess Float” wear red, white, and green ribbons with medallions. Marchers will distribute paper flowers in those same colors.

This parade also celebrates the Isleños — Spanish settlers from the Canary Islands who founded what is now known as St. Bernard Parish.

This year’s theme is “Goes Hollywood.” The king and queen, Barry and Katherine Lemoine, are active in the St. Bernard theatre community.