Parade goers in New Orleans will replace their Mardi Gras beads and lucky four-leaf clovers with fava beans and the red, white and green flag of Italy this weekend.
The Italian-American St. Joseph Society of New Orleans has planned a weekend of events mostly open to the public, including its annual parade and pasta party, to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day on March 19, according to club president Peter Gilberti.
As the organization turns 52, Gilberti said members will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, after the parade was postponed two years in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re doing an overhaul,” he said.
In 2020, the members held their pasta and cocktail event before Gilberti said he got a phone call from the New Orleans Police Department to say the mayor was getting permits for special events. During the pandemic, Gilberti said he is hosting board meetings once a month via Zoom.
To make up for lost time, Gilberti said, this year the parade even has two queens, crowned on March 13 in Piazza d’Italia, in Poydras Street.
“We have to make everyone happy,” he said.
The organization will host its pasta night, which is open to the public, on Friday, March 18 at noon at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel, though Gilberti said it’s best to be there before 11 a.m. Parade marshal David Greco, owner of Mikes Deli and Arthur Avenue Caterers in New York’s Little Italy, will the biggest bowl of pasta con le sarde in the world.
During Lent, the club will serve this classic Sicilian meatless dish that combines pasta with anchovies and sardines. The final product uses 500 pounds of pasta.
The dish also features a golden Italian breadcrumb filling called “modica,” which stands for St. Joseph’s sawdust. The dish is presented to the public, and those participating in the parade serve the meal with an apron and serving spoon in hand.
Gilberti said the company, which is registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is also presenting $1,000 scholarships to four local high school students at the pasta event.
The following day, a Saturday which this year falls on St. Joseph’s Day itself, the organization’s parade rolls through the city center, with 12 floats and 11 groups of marchers.
Featured throws include tricolor beads nodding to the Italian flag, red, white and green flowers handed out by men in tuxedos, and glowing rings that say “Kiss me, I’m Italian.”
The parade will start at rue Canal et Chartres at 6:00 p.m. and return to the Hilton around 9:00 p.m., at the time of the club’s gala.
Louisiana Spice, a local band, will perform at the gala, where members and their guests will dance, eat and drink until the early hours, Gilberti said.
“Everyone agreed that we’re picking up where we left off and seeing this as a celebration of our 50th anniversary,” he said.
St. Joseph’s Pasta Festival
WHEN: Noon Friday March 18
OR: Italy Square
Italian-American St. Joseph’s Day Parade
Parade routes are subject to change, so check nola.com for more details.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday March 18
OR: Canal and Chartres streets
For more information, visit www.italianamericansociety.org.