Southington celebrates its international roots: 2017 Italian-American Festival draws record crowds

The Italian-American Festival culminated on Sunday with an Italian outdoor mass and the annual procession of a Madonna Della Strata statue through the streets of town. The annual festival celebrates Southington’s strong Italian ancestry, which helped shape the town’s history in the 20th century. (Photo by Kelly May Del Debbio)

By JEN CARDINES

STAFF WRITER

Mother Nature seemed to be making up for lost time last weekend during the 13th annual Italian-American Festival because sunny skies and perfect temperatures were the buzz on Center Street. Previous years brought rain, excessive heat and humidity, but not this time around.

“The weather played into our hand very well,” said festival chair Dave Zoni. “We had record-breaking turn-out. Literally, the entire street was a sea of people.”

People were scattered throughout the downtown area, getting their fix of fried dough, sausage and meatballs, pasta fagioli, pizza, and other classic Italian favorites.

“A lot of vendors had to re-stock for Sunday because they sold out,” Zoni said, adding that this year’s addition of fried calamari by Paul Gregory’s was a huge hit.

Record crowds flocked to Center Street during the 2017 Italian-American Festival. (Photo by John Goralski)

Representatives from the three festival sponsors (Sons of Italy, Southington UNICO, and Sorelle D’Italia in America) were on hand all weekend to make sure everything went off without a hitch. Live bands continuously entertained crowds and face painters and carnival rides kept the little ones occupied.

Amidst the sea of people, dozens strolled through the festival in matching shirts that read “Orfitelli 2017” on the front and “La famiglia e tutto” (family is everything) on the back. They were hard to miss.

Marc Orfitelli and his brother teamed up to contact their extended family for a reunion to celebrate their Italian heritage that coincided with the festival. About 50 people—all related through the Orfitelli name—gathered at the Elks Lodge on Saturday for their first reunion in over 40 years. They chose the lodge for its close walking distance to the Center Street event.

Each year, the festival promotes Italian culture throughout the Southington community, inviting the public to experience authentic cuisine, entertainment, and more.

“What better place to host our reunion than the Italian-American festival,” Orfitelli, a Southington resident, said. “We were very fortunate to connect to the majority of our family.”

The Italian-American Festival served as the perfect backdrop for the Orfitelli family reunion, left. The Italian-American family traces its roots through Southington. Almost 50 family members took part in the reunion. (Submitted photo)

Ranging from age four to 93, family members at the reunion represented multiple generations and brought together people who had never met. Some of the relatives in the mix were even born in Italy.

Orfitelli said the family name is a common ancestry, so anyone with it is “related in some shape or form.” Dressed in their matching shirts, Orfitelli relatives were caught dancing to the music, indulging in the food, judging the homemade wine contest, and experiencing the kids’ carnival.

“The beauty of [the reunion] was that we tied it to the festival,” said Marc’s father, Gerry Orfitelli. “We didn’t have to worry about music, food, or entertainment.”

They did, however, use the Elks Lodge to enjoy their own family treats, which included Orfitelli ice cream from Manchester, and watch old home videos. A family tree hung on the wall so members could add names and connect their relatives.

An employee from Paul Gregory’s Bistro serves a meatball sandwich at a tent outside the Center Street restaurant. (Photo by John Goralski)

Family members—which came from across Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maine—came back on Sunday for the festival’s culmination.

The morning opened with an outdoor Catholic Mass followed by the traditional processional. Officials carried a Madonna Della Strata statue along stretches of Center Street, Liberty Street, Eden Avenue, and Bristol Street before returning to the main stage where it started.

The festival committee chooses two local organizations each year to receive 100 percent of the funds from drink sales. Throughout the weekend, members of the United Way of Southington and Southington Community Services managed beverage sales to benefit their organizations.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.

Photos by KELLY MAY DEL DEBBIO

Photos by JOHN GORALSKI

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