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Columbus tastes a slice of Italy with 38th annual Italian Festival

What started as a small dinner of parishioners and a priest in 1979 has become Columbus’ own festive weekend full of tradition, community and lots of carbs.

The 38th annual Columbus Italian Festival will take place Friday through Sunday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Italian Church at 720 Hamlet St. The event promises a weekend of entertainment, authentic Italian cuisine and new cultural teaching expansions.

Musicians walk through the streets during the Italian Fest in 2013. Credit: Courtesy of Alise Cua

“The last couple of years we’ve really ramped up the Italian heritage tent,” Landa Brunetto, director of marketing and communications, said. “With that whole salute to the Italian culture [we have] many cooking demonstrations, Italian language…a course on if you travel to Italy for the first time, things to be aware of.”

Following the theme from this year’s festival, “One Culture, Many Regions,” Italian language students from Bishop Watterson High School will present their presentations on the different regions of Italy. Meanwhile, the Ohio State Italian Club will lend a helping hand to speak about personal experiences, language and teach the traditional Italian card game of Scopa, among other activities.

For Matt Falcona, a fifth-year in Logistics and activities coordinator for the Italian Club, connecting with the local Italian community is important.

“I am looking forward to sharing my experiences travelling in Italy and establishing a connection between the Italian Club, [Ohio State] Italian Studies, Italia in Ohio and the Italian Festival,” Falcona said. “I am hopeful that we can set a precedent for future festivals.”

Highlights from the festival include the pasta dinner donated by Carfagna’s since 1980 and entertainment from a variety of bands like Two Gents & The Lady, Urban Transit and, making a first appearance, Phil Dirt & the Dozers. Admission for the festival is $5 for adults and kids under 12 are free.

The festival will host the inaugural Columbus Regional Pesto Championship at 3 p.m. Sunday, and the winner will go on to represent Columbus at the World Pesto Championship in Genoa, Italy, next year.

Genoa and Columbus share a special relationship, as they are sister cities according to Greater Columbus Sister Cities International, a partnership that dates back to 1955.

“There is quite an importance with the statue of Christopher Columbus [in Columbus],” Brunetto said. “I know people are divided about it, but the reason we have it is a gift from Italy, they’ve taken Columbus as their own, kind of an Italian city across the pond.”

One thing that hasn’t changed in the past few decades is the festival’s commitment to faith, family and friends, said Falcona.

“I have always been proud of my Italian heritage,” he said. “I believe having an appreciation for the culture and learning the language is critical for the longevity of the Italian culture.”

That same sentiment was echoed by Brunetto.

“[We] always honor our Catholic faith and our Italian heritage…and friends, anyone who loves to be Italian…wants to be embraced by the Italian family and culture, kind of what we are,” Brunetto said. “Keeping that heritage, a touchstone to the past and also a bridge to the future for other generations that we’re keeping this [festival] going.”

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