Annual Giglio Feast makes return to Williamsburg

Hundreds of people hit Lorimer Street during the summer of 2017 for a scaled-down version of the annual Giglio Itailan Feast, which neighborhood Catholics celebrate each July. The feast made a triumphant return this week, and will continue through July 17.
File photo by Stefano Giovannini

The famed Giglio Feast returned to Williamsburg on Wednesday.

The feast, also known as the the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel after the eponymous neighborhood church, kicked off on July 6. Festivities will run through July 17 outside the storied house of worship.

The Giglio Feast is centered around a the Giglio, a seven-story-tall, four-ton tower, made of aluminum and adorned with papier-mache flowers, angels, and religious figures. Throughout the feast, over 100 men will lift and walk the tower through the streets of Williamsburg, all while a brass band performs at the base of the tower. 

The tradition can be traced back to the town of Nola, Italy in 410 AD, when pirates invaded the town and abducted women and children. San Paolino offered himself up to the pirates in order to rescue a widow’s son from being abducted. Paolino was then taken to South Africa as a prisoner. A Turkish Sultan heard of Paolino’s heroic act and negotiated for his freedom. The townsfolk, overjoyed by Paolino’s safe return, greeted him with lilies, symbolizing love and purity. 

When the Nolani settled in Brooklyn in the 1880s, they felt obligated to honor their patron saint, San Paolino. They began the tradition of an annual feast in 1903 and, since the 1950s, Our Lady of Mount Carmel has organized the event.

Despite the tradition dating back to Italian immigrants coming to the borough for the first time, Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, sees the Giglio Feast an opportunity to reach out to today’s newcomers to Brooklyn.

“[This feast] is a great way of reaching out to the new-comers in the neighborhood,” said Monsignor Gigantiello. “They like the tradition and they like the nostalgia.”

The towering Giglio.Brooklyn Paper file photos

The past few years, the festival has faced obstacles in putting on the event. In 2019, there was a shortage of volunteers to carry the Giglio through the streets of Williamsburg, but was eventually able to recruit volunteers. In 2020, the festival can cancelled due to the pandemic, and made a slightly smaller but still mighty return last July.

The nearly two-week festival is also an important way for Our Lady of Mount Carmel to raise money. 

“The neighborhood has changed and many of the old-timers have moved out,” Monsignor Gigantiello said. “Since many of the old-timers have moved out, attendance on Sunday isn’t that great. So, we rely on the revenue of this feast to support the parish for the whole year.”

The streets of Williamsburg will be adorned with a carnival-like atmosphere with food, games and entertainment throughout the duration of the Giglio Feast. The annual Dancing of the Giglio will take place on Sunday, July 10, with the Giglio Night Lift to follow on Wednesday, July 13.

For more information and a full schedule of events, visit olmcfeast.com.