Head to The Hill to Celebrate St. Louis' Italian Heritage This Weekend

I often tease my husband that if I ever write a book, I’m going to call it An American Girl’s Guide to Surviving an Italian Family.  In turn, he – a first generation Sicilian who shares a name with the Godfather – likes to remind me that hot-headed and easily offended Italians are known for leaving the people who cross them to “sleep with the fishes.”  

Okay, so if I know what’s good for me, I may never write that particular literary masterpiece. Or maybe I should remind my husband that we don't actually live in episode of The Sopranos. Either way, the truth remains that when an all-American girl like me marries into a big Italian family, there's going to be a bit of culture shock along the way.
“It’s like joining a secret society,” I joked to a friend, when attempting to explain how you have to kiss every single relative and acquaintance hello and good-bye, every single time you see them. If you skip the tradition, you risk offending an entire family – and igniting a feud that could last for decades.
Think My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but with pasta.

Italian-Americans have A LOT of traditions. In part, I imagine it’s leaving their homeland behind that causes them to cling so tightly to the heritage and customs that keep its memory alive. And though I'll never agree with or understand everything they do, there's a lot to love about being an honorary Italian by marriage.    

I get to eat amazing and authentic foods like spiedini and arancini and mortadella on a regular basis. I’ve been to more than my share of fancy Italian weddings, which are some of the best parties you’ll ever attend. I’ve learned how to make cuccidati (Italian Christmas cookies filled with nuts and figs), and baking them every year has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Best of all, my kids – who are half-Sicilian – are growing up with a tremendous sense of pride in not only the country of their birth, but also their rich Italian heritage.

Here in St. Louis we're lucky to have a thriving Italian-American community, and there are many opportunities for families – Italian or not – to enjoy and celebrate all things red, white, and green. At the St. Louis Columbus Day Parade and Festival this Sunday, for example, kids and adults can head to The Hill neighborhood for an entire day of amazing food, live entertainment, and plenty of family-friendly, Italian-inspired fun.  

The Columbus Day Parade will begin at 12 p.m. at Edwards and Columbia, and proceed down neighborhood streets to end at the Columbus Day Festival in Berra Park. You’ll want to grab a spot along the parade route early, and be sure to bring bags so your kids can collect candy from the floats. To see the full parade route, click here.

Once the Parade is over, don’t miss the Festival’s big draw – the food booths where local restaurants will be dishing up delicious and authentic Italian fare. (Helpful hint: Opt for the arancini. It’s the dish all the real Italians go crazy to get their hands on.)

The Festival runs until 6 p.m. and includes a meatball-eating contest, live music, an appearance from Miss Italian St. Louis, and plenty of games and prizes for all.

Last year there were bounce houses and  inflatables to keep the kids busy, and a playground is also located in the park. If you're looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon outdoors and introduce your family to all the amazing Italian food and culture that St. Louis has to offer, the St. Louis Columbus Day Parade and Festival is an event that's not to be missed.  

But if you're looking to learn more about what it's really like to marry into a big Italian family? Well, maybe I'll have to write that book after all.    

For more information about the St. Louis Columbus Day Parade and Festival, visit www.stlcolumbusday.com.


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Alyssa Chirco is a freelance writer, mother and margarita lover, not necessarily in that order. In addition to writing for STL Parent, she is Contributing Editor at Parenting Squad, and covers parenting, health and lifestyle topics for publications across the country. She recently moved from the suburbs of St. Louis to a small town in rural Jefferson County, where she is learning to survive with no Target or Starbucks in sight. Follow her on Twitter @AlyssaChirco


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