Mangia, Mangia: Festa Italiana Syracuse celebrates Italian culture

The Syracuse City Hall steps will be filled with Italian vendors and games this weekend at Festa Italiana Syracuse's 19th annual celebration.

Casey Russell | Head Illustrator

The Syracuse City Hall steps will be filled with Italian vendors and games this weekend at Festa Italiana Syracuse’s 19th annual celebration.

Hot dogs are out and meatballs are in at Festa Italiana.

In its 19th year, the festival will host its first Charity Meatball Eating Contest. The winner gets to donate $500 to the local charity of their choice.

Festa is a celebration of Italian culture featuring events, foods and entertainment. The opening ceremony will begin on Friday at 11 a.m. at the Syracuse City Hall steps. The ceremony will begin with the raising of the Italian flag and a performance of the Italian National Anthem by David Ruderi.

“The festival was my father’s dream,” Ginnie Lostumbo, president of Festa, said. “He’d been asked by the priest at St. Petersburg to design a festival where they could raise funds, so he did all the planning, but he passed away before we could implement it. My mother, sister and I carried on his plans.”

Visitors will find themselves surrounded by Italian pride from the more than 300 people who volunteer all around the event.

“We see everybody at the festival — friends, your neighbors, even the vendors. They are a part of our family and have been with us for years,” Lostumbo said.

Festa has been a high point event for Italians in central New York for 19 years, Lostumbo said. This year features a new lemon ices stand, and vendors work on adding a few new dishes each year.

Twentyfive local restaurants and caterers will sell their specialties during the weekend. The festival’s main stage and small stage will host local music and dance groups such as Prime Time Horns, the Federico School of Music and Billionaires.

The bocce tournament, a ball sport, is one of the most popular events. Visitors travel from all over New York state to compete in Festa’s three divisions — men’s, women’s and mixed teams.

“The Bocce teams have been with us for many years,” Lostumbo said. “Our Bocce tournament is very successful. They start from 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, and sometimes they are still competing until 5 at night, so that’s great.”

The festival’s new location in front of Syracuse City Hall makes it more accessible to the public. With the streets blocked off, the event feels like a little Italy. Having the event at Syracuse City Hall also makes it much easier on families because parents can let children experience the culture, Lostumbo said.

The festival hosts events for families on Saturday and Sunday at the Children’s Tent near Villa Pizza Fritte and the Main Stage. Jeff the Magic Man and Clown Around Clowns will perform, and children can get their faces painted from 1 to 5 p.m. Festival visitors will get a visit from Otto from 1 to 2:30 on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday morning’s events kick off with an open-air mass at 11 a.m.

“I think the most rewarding part is seeing the people enjoying everything,” Lostumbo said. “We welcome everybody, all nationalities. As we say, ‘everybody’s Italian that day.’”

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