Bensonhurst’s Santa Rosalia Feast continues to show Italian pride

After Covid setbacks, festival is back in full swing

August 23, 2022 Jaime DeJesus,
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Bensonhurst showed off its Italian pride once again as it kicked off its annual Feast of Santa Rosalia on Thursday at 18th Avenue from 68th Street to Bay Ridge Parkway.

Known as a summer fixture to the neighborhood, the 10-day festival includes the familiar, beloved food, games, rides, music and shopping that many have come to expect during the 40 years it’s been held.

Foodies are attracted to sausage and pepper sandwiches, zeppole from the Lucy’s and Stella’s stands, and much more.

Related Article: Feast of Santa Rosalia returns to Bensonhurst’s 18th Avenue

Carlo Scissura, chairman of the board of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Brooklyn, is thrilled to see it back after an absence forced by COVID-19.

“The Santa Rosalia feast is a long-standing tradition that brings the culture of Sicily and the patron saint of Palermo to Brooklyn, and in particular to Bensonhurst,” he said. “Seeing all the great cultures of Brooklyn come together to enjoy 10 days of music, food, rides and games for the kids is something to celebrate.”

Attendees try to win a prize during one of the feast’s many games. Photo courtesy of Paul R. Gordon

Attendees said the 10-day festival was off to a great start. Local resident Paul Gordon said that this year’s event felt bigger and stronger than ever.

“Even on the most mundane weeknights, the streets are packed with revelers enjoying the sights and sounds, and incredible foods by abundance in even larger and fresher offerings than before,” he said. “The excitement and enthusiasm are high as the crowds seem to be the same or more than pre-pandemic volumes of crowds. The excitement for this event is highly anticipated as pandemic seems to be plateauing.”

The surrounding neighborhood has changed since the feast was introduced 40 years ago — there is now a high Asian population in Bensonhurst compared to its once-predominantly Italian American population.

Statue and dedication of Santa Rosalia, the Patron Saint of Palermo, Italy. Photo courtesy of Paul R. Gordon

According to Census Reporter, based on data from the 2020 American Community Survey, the Asian population in District 11 — which includes Bensonhurst — is 76,264, or 41.2% of the population.

In 2015, The New York Times reported that Bensonhurst had the largest number of Chinese-born residents of any neighborhood in the city, some 31,658, according to a 2013 city report that offered the most recent data on immigrant New Yorkers.

Locals and tourists enjoy Italian cuisine from the various stands at the Santa Rosalia Feast in Bensonhurst. Photo courtesy of Paul R. Gordon

However, the festival still proudly celebrates the area’s history and culture along with its diversity.

“The demographics in Bensonhurst have shifted,” Marnee Elias-Pavia, district manager of Community Board 11, told this paper in 2018. “Today, we are a diverse and multicultural community. The feast provides our residents with an opportunity to learn about the culture, music and food of our Italian American community. Food and music bring us together.

“It’s such an important part of the neighborhood and tradition in the history of Bensonhurst,” Gordon said.

Santa Rosalia is the patron saint of Palermo, Italy. According to tradition, in 1624, after she had already died, a plague struck Palermo. She appeared in a vision to several townspeople, telling them where her remains were to be found, in a cave. After her bones were carried through the town in a procession, the plague ended.

The feast will conclude on Sunday.

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