Like the Irish, Italians around the city will toast their heritage with celebrations unfolding over the next several days. Highlights include folk dancing, an enormous communal bowl of pasta and a mobile St. Joseph's Altar rolling through the French Quarter.

The events are hosted by the Italian American St. Joseph Society, and they’re free and open to the public.

The festivities kick off on Sunday, March 17, at noon, near the fountains in the Piazza d’Italia (300 Poydras St.). Guests can enjoy Italian food and wine, and watch the ladies of the downtown St. Joseph parade perform a tarantella folk dance.


The Italian-American Club prepares the "World's Largest Bowl of Pasta" in celebration of the St. Joseph's Day Parade.

On Friday, March 22, the society will host a luncheon at 11:45 a.m. in the New Orleans Hilton Riverside hotel (first floor, in the grand salon), and serve the "world’s largest pasta dish" — a 500-pound helping of pasta con sarde (pasta with sardines, crushed tomatoes, fennel, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and Pecorino Romano cheese).

While live music plays in the background, cooks and club members will present each ingredient to the crowd, with much fanfare.

The 49th annual Italian American St. Joseph Society Parade begins its journey through the French Quarter on Saturday, March 23, at 6 p.m.

“In the 1800s, the French Quarter was dubbed ‘Little Palermo’, because there was a huge group of Sicilian immigrants living in there,” explained Peter Gilberti, the president of the Italian American St. Joseph Society.

The parade features 15 floats carrying maids wearing long white gowns, marching bands and tuxedo-clad men distributing silk red, green and white roses, in exchange for a kiss. Participants will also hand out more than 1 million blessed fava beans.

“You carry it for a year and it gives you luck. When the year is over, you discard it,” said Gilberti.

The title float, featuring two gondolas, is followed by a three-tiered St. Joseph's Altar, covered with traditional Italian altar foods, including lamb cakes, cookies and breads shaped like religious symbols.

“The altar float is the pinnacle of our parade,” said Gilberti.

Gilberti and fellow board members of the Italian American St. Joseph Society will ride on a “Roman-type chariot.” When the parade ends, the participants will head back to the New Orleans Hilton Riverside for a gala, featuring a presentation of the parade’s maids and the queen, Ava Elizabeth Maraldo. Maraldo is the great-niece of Anthony J. Russo, a co-founder of the society. Tickets for this event can be purchased at the door for $50.