OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The well-known Italian cultural event known as the Santa Lucia Festival kicked off on Thursday for its 99th year. It’s in the heart of Little Italy just south of downtown Omaha.

The festival returned home right in front of the St. Francis Cabrini Church where the event originated.

“Now that it’s back in the neighborhood, it just feels more like home,” said Jim Hall, owner of Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria. “This is where it originated, and this is where all the families grew up.”

A fun, but busy weekend lies ahead for the community that includes small businesses.

“Every year they’ve had this festival since the early twenties and people come back from out of town and from all over parts of the country,” Hall said.

Hall said the festival is like a family reunion.

“[With] lots of food, and fun,” Hall said.

One of the festival organizers, Joe Chalen, was setting up for a busy night on Friday.

“Yeah, this is a big event for us,” Chalen said. “[On Thursday] there was a big crowd.”

Our partners at 6 News caught a glimpse of what the festival has to offer from an Italian food market that includes a pizza booth and a dessert booth.

“Our bocce ball tournament [Thursday], which has been a lot of work cause we’re doing it on the grass,” Chalen said.

Chalen described bocce ball as playing hockey on grass.

The festival also has music and a story booth where people can get a glimpse of the history of Santa Lucia.

Overall, Chalen hopes those who come to the event leave learning something new.

“Everybody comes down here specifically old friends that you don’t see for a long time,” Chalen said. “They meet here and they love it here.”

The Santa Lucia Festival runs through Sunday at 10th and William streets.