Williamsburg’s storied Giglio Feast will make its return this week, after being cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 12-day feast, officially known as the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel after the eponymous neighborhood church, will begin on July 7 and run through July 18.
“Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast, the best feast in Brooklyn is back bigger and better than ever,” said Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Williamsburg, in a statement. “The parish, the community, and so many others are very much looking forward to the return of such a grand and special tradition.”
The feast is centered around a huge, seven-story-tall, four-ton tower, the namesake Giglio, which is made of aluminum, adorned with papier-mache flowers, angels, and religious figures. Several times over the course of the feast, the tower is lifted by over 100 men and walked around in the streets of Williamsburg, complete with a brass band performance at the tower’s base.
The streets of the neighborhood acquire a carnival-like atmosphere, with ample food, games, and entertainment.
The Williamsburg festival was founded by Italian immigrants from the town of Nola in 1903, who imported many traditions from the old country into modern festivities to honor their patron saint, San Paolino (Saint Paulinus in Latin), and the event that led to his canonization.
According to legend, the town of Nola was invaded by pirates from North Africa in 410 AD, who abducted and enslaved local young men. Paolino is said to have offered himself as a slave in exchange for one woman’s son, and he was taken back to North Africa, but only until a Turkish Sultan heard of his heroic acts and ordered him freed. Upon his return to Nola, Paolino was greeted by townsfolk carrying lilies.
The tower is carried through Brooklyn, and in Nola, to symbolize Paolino’s return.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel has organized the feast since the 1950s. In 2019, the festival almost didn’t go on when the church faced a shortage of volunteers to carry the Giglio, but eventually managed to recruit from outside the parish.