Columbus Day Festa brings a slice of Italy to downtown Baton Rouge

Paint the town green and red

“We decided to expand to the night before so we could make a complete weekend in celebration of the Italian heritage.” Frank Arrigo, festival co-chairman

With “An Evening in Rome” added on Saturday night, the Columbus Day Festa grows to two days this year.

“We decided to expand to the night before so we could make a complete weekend in celebration of the Italian heritage,” Frank Arrigo, festival co-chairman, said. “We wanted to have something that would tie in to the Italian theme, and we decided to have what’s called ‘An Evening in Rome,’ and in Italy it’s called ‘Sotto il cielo di Roma,’ where’s it’s kind of a romantic evening with music and food and dancing and just celebration.”

The Italian buffet and dinner dance, as well as Sunday’s official festa, are presented by the Greater Baton Rouge American Italian Association.

About 3,000 people attended last year’s festa, its third year inside the Belle of Baton Rouge Atrium.

Previous years’ events were geared toward adults, but a kids’ activity session is being added this year, Arrigo said.

“It’s going to be educational and entertaining. There’s an animated movie about Christopher Columbus’ voyage. For smaller children, there’s a coloring book of Columbus’ voyage. There will also be a storyteller, word searches, and they’ll guess how many pastas are in the jar.”

Returning this year are the vino stroll, with proceeds going to the McMains Children’s Developmental Center; the grape stomp, with female anchors and news reporters from local TV stations competing; and the pizza-eating contest. Both of the latter events also benefit local charities.

“We’ve helped the United Way, Susan G. Komen of Baton Rouge, the Red Cross, Keep Baton Rouge Beautiful, I could go on and on,” Arrigo said.

Another popular event is the presentation of the maids, with 33 girls ages 3-18, dressed in white dresses and sashes, being introduced to the crowd this year. The maids were nominated by members of Grandsons of Italy, the GBRAIA or the Italian American Marchers.

Also under the Atrium, visitors will find seminars on the Italian language, genealogy and history; a St. Joseph’s altar, bocce ball, food, drinks, music, dancing, face painting and the Little Italy Shopping Village.