In just over a week, the intersection of North 8th and Havemeyer Streets will be decked out with lights and decorations. Dozens of vendors will line up to sell sausages and peppers, cannolis, Manhattan Specials and Italian Ices. There will be nightly entertainment. And three times in the next week, hundreds of men in white t-shirts with red caps and scarves will hoist an 80 foot obelisk covered in lilies and topped with a statue of St. Paulinus, the Patron Saint of Nola, Italy as the streets overflow with music and celebration.
For a 127th year running, the Giglio Feast is returning to Williamsburg, once again hosted by the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The two-week long festival will see over 5,000 participants take part in the festivities. The action will kick off July 9 and culminate with the Old Timers Giglio Lift on July 20, intended for the participation of long-term Italian-American residents of Williamsburg, and others who have moved away from the neighborhood, that was once a stronghold for the Italian immigrant community.
The Giglio Feast honors the story of St. Paulinus, who in 410 A.D., after North African pirates took control of the city of Nola and kidnapped its children offered his own life in exchange for the children’s. Hearing of his sacrifice and bravery, a Turkish Sultan intervened and rescued both St. Paulinus and the kidnapped children.
Upon the group’s return to Nola, St. Paulinus was showered with lilies (Italian: gigli), which signify love and purity.
For most attendees, the highlight of the week is the lifting of the Giglio. Three times during the festival, around 125 men will lift the 4 ton, 80 foot tall obelisk – complete with a full marching band playing traditional Italian music – for four hours, carrying it through the Williamsburg streets.
For participants, the feast is also a means for a disappearing community to become united once more.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be a lifter,” said Philip Franco, the MC for the event, and a Principal at Saint Margaret Catholic School in Middle Village, Queens. “There’s a sense of camaraderie, of family, and fun. It can be very tiring of course especially considering it always ends up being on the hottest day of the year, but the feeling of coming together that way is wonderful.”
Franco was a lifter for several years, and has served as the MC, atop the obelisk, for the past couple of years. He grew up Williamsburg, and his mother continues to own a home there. Franco penned his dissertation on the Giglio Festival, building on traditions he was already familiar. His family also hails from Southern Italy.
Williamsburg is the neighborhood hundreds of southern Italian immigrants chose in the wave of Italian-American immigration in the 1880s. Those hailing from Nola, also known as the Nolani, were one of the biggest groups. In the 1950s, Mount Carmel took over the running of the festival.
Today, with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of North Brooklyn fast displacing one immigrant group after another, the Giglio Feast is a strong tradition that carries on undeterred.
2014 Giglio Feast, July 9-20, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 275 North 8th Street, for detailed program listing visit http://www.olmcfeast.com/2014-feast/.