Joanne’s Journey to the Federal Hill Columbus Day Festival


October brings us many things in Rhode Island. The leaves turn color, the fall breeze starts, and all the autumn festivals begin. One of the most popular festivals is the Christopher Columbus Festival on Federal Hill on Atwells Avenue, in Providence.

The festivities kicked off on Saturday at noon and ran through the whole weekend, including Monday, Columbus Day. The weather was perfect Sunday, when I decided to venture up to Federal Hill to check out the festival. Parking wasn’t so easy, as the parking meter spaces were full and private lots wanted $20 to park. I thought that was steep! I finally found a space near Holly Ghost Church and walked up Atwells Avenue. 

The Columbus Day Festival has changed over the years. It is now a multi-cultural event with all types of food. The parade now starts on Sunday at 11:00 AM and it seems shorter than years past. The parade this year was dedicated to the late Joe DiGiulio, who was an icon in Federal Hill for many years and made the parade possible. His work and commitment to the parade and feast will be missed. The parade was led by the Governor and many politicians from all over the state. I noticed the Governor was the only woman office holder marching in a swarm of all men.

There were many stands of arts and crafts there paving the way up Atwells Avenue. As I started up the Hill, I smelled the aroma of sausage and peppers cooking. And yes, I had to have a sausage and pepper sandwich, because the aroma smelled so good and the tastes were even better.

There are countless vendors selling hot dogs and sausages and meatballs a the Columbus Day Festival.

There were stands everywhere offering all kinds of food. Venda Restaurant had Veal Parmesan sandwiches, meatball sandwiches, sausage and peppers, and even fresh ravioli.  

I can’t forget the huge doughboys I saw being cooked loaded with powdered sugar. There was even Chinese food available. All the favorite restaurants had tables and chairs on the sidewalks, including Siena, Venda, Zooma and many others. 

I enjoyed looking at the different stands which included an Italian American stand with all sweatshirts and tee shirts which seemed very popular. There was also a stand with beautiful sweaters and knitted jackets which I could not pass by. I did buy a beautifully crocheted knit sweater which will be just right for Fall. All the local stores did sidewalk sales, too. The shoe store had lots of boots and clogs for sale while there were plenty of independent vendors offering handbags, jewelry and leather goods.

There were three stages of music located on different parts of Atwells Avenue, which made it very festive. People were dancing in the street and taking pictures. It was a perfect place to meet old friends and to make new ones. Festivals like this are needed in our neighborhoods to celebrate our heritages and to remind us of our customs and family life. This festival was jammed with people which proves if you have it, they will come. People are looking for a place to go to meet each other and chat.

Some delicious-looking desserts.

At this Columbus Day Festival there was something for all. Kiddie rides and amusement stands with games were plentiful. Music for Sinatra fans was plentiful as well as pop music too. Who doesn’t enjoy Steve Anthony singing on stage while everyone dances? There was plenty of fun for everyone and when it’s all over, we wonder why we can only do this festival once a year. After all, festivals and celebrations like this bring us together and in these times, that is not a bad thing. If you were not able to attend, there are always fun times on Federal Hill. There are plenty of dining choices and stores to visit. So, take a journey to Federal Hill and you will enjoy the experience of Little Italy. 

Joanne Giannini
Joanne Giannini is a former State Representative from Providence. A freelance journalist, consultant and writer, she has previously written commentary for The Providence journal, GolocalProv and WPRO radio. Contact her at