For 43 years, Glen Cove has been the home of the Feast of St. Rocco’s, a celebration of Italian-American heritage. The five-day event, which locals describe as the largest annual event in Glen Cove, this year featured games, rides and tasty Italian cuisine, prepared by more than 100 volunteers under the guidance of seasoned Italian grandmothers.
The event is organized by the Church of St. Rocco in Glen Cove, but its appeal is universal. “Even though it’s a church function, it’s a community project,” said Angie Colangelo, the feast’s chairwoman. “Everything is done from the heart. That’s what makes it successful.”
Some of the food was served in the “Pasta Pavilion,” ordinarily known as Parish Hall. Seventeen food vendors and 12 craft vendors also set up tents between Third and First streets.
Sweet and savory smells wafted along the summer breeze, drawing hungry feast-goers to snack on fresh shellfish, piping hot empanadas, saucy plates of Italian fare, and flash-fried sweets glistening with powdered sugar. Neon lights blinked wildly on carnival rides that swooped and soared, and there were screams of delight from their passengers. Fair-goers from far and wide rubbed elbows while standing at tables, enjoying sausage and pepper sandwiches and cups of cold beer.
Aside from the rides and food, many who attend St. Rocco’s Feast love it because it is synonymous with community and tradition. Suzanne Grennan, of Glen Cove, has been to almost every feast since the beginning. She said that her favorite part of the event is “the family, the friends, the food, seeing everybody — people I haven’t seen in a long time — they all just come out.” She is especially fond of watching her grandchildren enjoy what she used to enjoy when she was their age.
Lisa Cosalito, of Glen Cove, said that the feast infused her with happy nostalgia. “It reminds me of when I was a young girl,” she said, referring to an Italian feast on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx that she attended as a child.
U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a native of Glen Cove, agreed. “This is our parish,” he said of the Church of St. Rocco, “and this,” he added, gesturing to the bustling crowd, “is a very important part of life here in Glen Cove.”
Given the unmistakable Italian-ness of the event, some might be surprised to learn that the feast’s namesake was actually French. St. Rocco was born in Montpellier in the mid-1300s, a time when the Black Plague was ravaging Europe. After his parents died when he was a teenager, he took a vow of poverty and set off across the Italian countryside, tending to plague victims — and, according to legend, curing them — until he, too, became infected. Rocco was canonized as the patron saint of infectious diseases.
He became a prominent figure in the Italian canon of saints as the country struggled with repeated outbreaks of cholera and other maladies.
Over time, St. Rocco’s Feast has taken on a different meaning, especially for Italian immigrants. Carmine Costino, a Glen Cove resident and a vendor at the event, has been selling wine-soaked fruit to festival-goers for 30 years. He immigrated to Glen Cove from Italy in 1972. “It’s something like we had years ago, and we come here and we find something we love,” Costino said. “That’s why we continue to do it year after year.” Of the customers, he added, “It’s so beautiful, it’s like they’re my paesans” — an Italian term of endearment for countrymen or friends.