The sprawling, multifamily reunion and ethnic Italian celebration known as the Santa Lucia Festival continued on a roll Sunday.

Bocce ball, plates of pasta, a little red wine here and there, music and the laughter of people gathered around tables — it’s been an annual tradition since 1925.

If you asked anyone attending what the festival meant to them — from 16-year-old Sayler Maggiore Nacke, the newly crowned queen of the festival, to 85-year-old Josephine Caniglia Lohmeier, whose long-departed sister, Fena, was the festival’s first queen, you’d get the same answer: family, fun.

Young Sayler has been to every festival since she was 4 years old and has helped at the pizza booth since she was 12.

“It’s a warming environment, and a great place to be,” she said Sunday afternoon.

Back when Josephine Caniglia Lohmeier was Sayler’s age, Little Italy was a tightly knit neighborhood where everyone knew everyone.

Given how society has changed and people have moved around, the ability to reconnect takes on added meaning.

“I love being around these people, so many are my friends,” said 93-year-old Fred Aliano. “It’s just fun — rehashing old times.”

Events started Thursday, but Sunday was the big day, including a processional to bring the statue of St. Lucy from St. Frances Cabrini Church at 10th and William Streets to her installation at the riverfront along with offerings by the faithful. Also on Sunday, Sayler was crowned queen of the festival by the outgoing queen, Gina Troia.

The names of those gathered at the tables, working the booths and competing on the bocce court will sound familiar to any longtime area resident: the Piccolos and Caniglias, the Vendittes.

Father and daughter make Santa Lucia Festival an annual tradition

Chrissie Falcone, of Ralston, and her dad, Dan Falcone, of Omaha, at Sunday's Santa Lucia Festival in downtown Omaha.

Among the early arrivals were Chrissie Falcone and her dad, Dan Falcone.

“This is really fun,” Chrissie Falcone said. “It’s a really cool feeling seeing so many families.”

Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.