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Columbus Italian Festival to cater to taste buds, heritage

Courtesy of Larry Pishitelli

When some Italian immigrants settled into Columbus in the late 1800s, there was no place to worship in their native language. To solve that, in October 1896, St. John the Baptist Italian Catholic Church opened its doors at 720 Hamlet St. in Italian Village.

St. John the Baptist hosts an annual Columbus Italian Festival to raise funds for the continuing renovations on the church and to celebrate Italian heritage. Fr. Casto Marrapese, who was a pastor from 1974 to 1991, established the festival in 1980.

This year marks the 32nd Annual Columbus Italian Festival, and is scheduled for Friday through Sunday.

Rev. William Metzger, the parish’s pastor, said Marrapese proposed the theme of the festival to be “faith, family and friends.”

“These three elements represent the basic characteristics of Italian people and their culture,” Metzger said.

Taste of Italy, held Monday on the church ground, kicked off the festival. Twelve restaurants, including Berwick Manor Party House, Carfagna’s Kitchen and Cimi’s Bistro at Pinnacle, brought samples of their top dishes for the crowd to sample, along with antipasto platters and desserts.  

Margaret Panico-Harn, co-organizer of Taste of Italy, said a good way to celebrate Italian heritage and culture is through food and music.

“It’s the experience that they can come and have Italian food as many times as they like,” Panico-Harn said.

The Columbus Italian Festival is scheduled to feature entertainment and many Italian foods, such as pasta, pizza, meatball subs and gelato. Nine groups of musicians and dancers are slated to perform at the festival. Some groups, such as the San Giovanni Dancers, will showcase authentic dance with regional Italian costumes. Other groups, such as Soul Kitch’n, will perform jazz, R&B and funk music.

Arts and crafts will be led by 20 artists, crafters and small businesses, and there will also be a children’s area with rides and crafts.

Metzger said the Italian Festival is a way for attendees and those of Italian heritage to feel like they’re home in Italy.

“When many people think of Italians, they usually think about food and music,” Metzger said. “But there is more than that. Here is the opportunity for all things to come together – food, music, arts and crafts and people. We try to make a similar atmosphere like in our hometown in Italy.”

Courtney Wilson, a fourth-year in Italian, said the Italian Festival is an opportunity for Italian-Americans to build their community. She also said one of her favorite parts of the festival is a big map of Italy.

“You can go and stick a pin on the Italy map where your family’s from,” Wilson said. “You can see how people’s families (are) from all over and ended up in Columbus somehow.”

The festival will feature a screening of “The Godfather” at 7 p.m. Thursday at Studio 35, located at 3055 Indianola Ave. The film was written by Italian-American author and screenwriter Mario Puzo.

ItaliaGate Tailgate, a tailgate party before Saturday’s Ohio State football game against Nebraska, will feature Italian food and music, and is slated to begin at 4:30 p.m.

The Columbus Italian parade and high school marching band competition is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Sunday. The parade will march through the Short North Arts District and Italian Village.

The festival is scheduled to run from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $5 for adults and free for children 12 and under with paid adult admission.

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