Regional Columbus Day Parade returns to New Haven this year

Paul Frosolone, president of the West Haven Italian American Club, carries the Italian flag up Campbell Ave. during the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade in West Haven on Oct. 8, 2017.

Paul Frosolone, president of the West Haven Italian American Club, carries the Italian flag up Campbell Ave. during the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade in West Haven on Oct. 8, 2017.

The regional Columbus Day Parade will return home this year.

The annual event will proceed from City Hall at 1 p.m. Oct. 7 down Chapel Street to St. Michael’s Church in Wooster Square, also known as the Little Italy neighborhood. After, the public is invited to attend a Heritage Festival held in Wooster Square Park where there stands a monument of Columbus.

The city takes its turn once every six years hosting the parade, which was first held here Oct. 11, 1892. West Haven, New Haven, Branford, North Haven, East Haven and Hamden have joined in hosting it since 2002.

“This year, we unanimously agreed we should showcase New Haven and its diversity,” Alder Anna Festa, D-10, said. “We still plan on celebrating the Italian American experience, but also showcasing this city and how far we’ve come in terms of immigration.”

Festa, who’s entire family immigrated to New Haven, marched in the parade growing up, with St. Michael’s School. She said she can still remember practicing in the school parking lot and the group having to make a perfect turn right before the reviewing stand. For her, the parade means keeping family traditions alive.

“For me, it’s about passing on those traditions to my kids, trying not to lose them and to maintain them,” Festa said. She has clear memories growing up in a big Italian family and the Sunday traditions that were respected, including her mother making sauce before church and visiting family afterwards.

Parade committee President Paul Criscuolo, who grew up in New Haven with much of his extended family from Wooster Square, said he also has fond memories of the Italian community, and the holiday is about bringing those back.

“It’s trying to remember and rekindle those memories in every generation,” he said. “This year is a little bit special, because beside the parade is the inclusive heritage festival in Wooster Square. It’s not just Italian American. This is really a multicultural event this year and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Many cultures will be represented through entertainment groups and varieties of food. “The entertainment goes from Italian to gospel to Spanish music,” Criscuolo said. “Same with the food, there will be a number of cuisines available representing the cultures in the city.”

“We’re celebrating histories of all our immigrants,” Criscuolo said. “We want to be 100 percent inclusive. (Columbus Day) is a rallying point of Italian Americans, but we’d love it to be a rallying point for all our immigrants.”

Organizers have also made a point to have more school bands from New Haven than the parade has ever had before. In addition, the parade will feature drill teams, Italian religious societies, police and fire groups and many traditional favorites. An estimated 80-90 marching units will participate in the parade.

“This day is more about how the Italian American immigrants contributed to this country rather than Columbus, and now we’re including other cultures to appreciate everything immigrants have contributed to this country,” Festa said. “It’s a celebration of immigration, of diversity.”

In addition to the parade, residents will have opportunities to take part in cultural events leading up to the holiday. The celebration begins Saturday with a walking tour of Wooster Square at 1 p.m., starting at the Christopher Columbus monument along Chapel Street. All the events are open to the public.

Thursday brings Le Feste Italiane at 6 p.m. in St. Bernadette Church, where church deacon Dominic Corraro will take a look at holidays in Italian culture.

Oct. 3, the annual Heritage Dinner will be held at Anthony’s Ocean View to honor parade co-grand marshals: U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3; Enrico Diamantini; and state Rep. Alphonse Paolillo, D-New Haven.

Oct. 4 will see a screening of “The Village: Life in New Haven’s Little Italy,” which tells the story of the city’s Wooster Square neighborhood.

Oct. 6 features a wreath ceremony at 11 a.m., with wreaths blessed at St. Michael’s Church and processed through Wooster Square.

Also on Oct. 6, Yale University Department of Italian will feature the documentary “Nuovo Mondo,” to be shown at the Church of St. Michael at 6:30 p.m.