Organizers cancel upcoming Festa Italia in Monterey due to COVID-19

The board of directors of the annual Festa Italia Fisherman’s Festival honoring the local fishermen of Monterey voted Saturday morning to cancel the 88th edition of their event, which was set for Sept. 10-12 at Custom House Plaza, out of an abundance of caution due to the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant.

Organizers cancel upcoming Festa Italia in Monterey due to COVID-19

MONTEREY — Unfortunately, tradition will have to wait one more year.

The board of directors of the annual Festa Italia Fisherman’s Festival honoring the local fishermen of Monterey voted Saturday morning to cancel the 88th edition of their event, which was set for Sept. 10-12 at Custom House Plaza, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant.

“It was really a difficult decision,” said Joe Cardinalli, vice president of the Festa Italia Foundation. “Of course, we canceled last year and we’ve been working on it, we work on it all year-round.”

Cardinalli said officials had been meeting once a week for the past six weeks to plan the event and this was their drop-dead date to keep moving ahead or pull back.

“Because we are stewards of the traditions, stewards of the community, we felt that for the health and safety of our volunteers and the community that this was a decision we had to make,” he said. “No one really wanted to make it, but it was something that had to be done. We’re a food festival so you have to take your masks off.”

While plans were in place for everyone handling food to wear masks, hand sanitation stations were to be set up and many other COVID-19 protocols and precautions were in place, the Festa Italia board of directors made the call the cancel this year’s event out of an abundance of caution for those who are part of the event and the greater community.

Festa Italia in Monterey dates back to 1933, when a statue of Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Sicilian fishermen, was donated to the San Carlos Cathedral. Sicilian women of Monterey started to pray to Santa Rosalia to ensure the safe journey and protection of the fishermen of their families. Since then, the tradition of blessing Monterey’s fishing fleets and praying for its fishermen has brought visitors to the Peninsula each year.

Typically, Festa Italia honors its history with Mass at San Carlos Cathedral, followed by a procession through downtown Monterey onto Fisherman’s Wharf. This year, however, the parade was not going to take place due to COVID-19.

Pasquale Esposito, Erasmo Aiello and Dave Marzetti accompanied by Mike Marotta, Jr., Dave Dally and Dennis Murphy, and the Tarantella Dancers were set to bring Italian music and culture to the festival. Other musical acts including the Money Band and Chicano All Stars were also set to perform.

“We are going to lose, it’s not a break-even for us,” Cardinalli said. “We have obligations that we are going to pay. But the safety of the public and our families and the volunteers, that was No. 1.”

Locally sourced Italian cuisine such as calamari steak and sausage sandwiches, cannoli, arancini and, of course, various pasta were set to be available. Cardinalli said organizers considered transitioning to a drive-thru food event and may hold something like that moving ahead. But they do plan on Festa Italia being back next year.

“I wanted to thank our President Buster Crivello, because he’s worked so hard, and the entire board of directors that’s been there all year-round and all the volunteers who said they were coming,” he said. “I really want to thank everyone for their support. It’s really important for our community to get together in this tradition and without the people, we can’t do it. So we need to protect the people.”

The cancellation of this year’s Festa Italia follows an announcement earlier this week that the Monterey Bay Greek Festival, which was also set to take place at Custom House Plaza, will not be held. The event was scheduled for this weekend but a note on its website said heightened concerns over the delta variant by the volunteers who make the festival successful led to the 34th edition of the annual event being canceled.