The streets of Williamsburg are illuminated with an Old-World flair every July with the annual Giglio Festival hosted by Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. Second in size to the San Gennaro feast in Little Italy, the Giglio commemorates the thrilling tale of San Paolino who escaped Turkish slavery in the demise of the Roman Empire.
The 12-day festival is a celebration of the beauty of Italian culture: faith, food, entertainment, music and history, and is held sacred in the hearts of many Italian New Yorkers, given its strict adherence to the tradition introduced by Neapolitan immigrants back in 1903.
The religious influence brought to Brooklyn nearly 129 years ago is still prevalent today, as especially seen through the lifting of the revered five-story, hand-crafted “Giglio” statue and a 12-piece brass band on the shoulders of 125 men.
The focal point of the feast dates back to 409 AD with the story of San Paolino di Nola, the bishop of Nola, Italy, who was taken captive by the Turks and taken back to North Africa as a slave. After escaping two years of slavery and returning back to his home in Nola, Saint Paolino was greeted by his townspeople with “gigli,” Italian for “lilies.” Lilies would soon be recognized as a symbol of the courageous Catholic martyr who was honored with bouquets of lilies with a statue placed on top, upon his death. Today, the reverence for San Paolino is as enthusiastic as ever, as proven through the much-anticipated festivities in Williamsburg.
During the festival, from July 6 to July 17, North Eighth Street at Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg will be chock full with a variety of activities that combine the religious and the secular for all ages. The 129th annual festival will feature Catholic Masses in several languages, as well as live entertainment, vendors selling classic Italian delicacies, parades, food, souvenirs, artwork, and kiddie rides. Monday through Friday, the festivities take place from 6 to 11 p.m., ending on midnight on Saturday, and running from noon to 11 p.m. on Sunday.
The opening night, Monday July 6, will consist of a night mass followed by the Candlelight Procession. Thursday, July 7 (rain date, July 8) will feature a children’s Giglio lift. The “Questua,” a neighborhood wide distribution of blessed bread, will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 9. Sunday, July 10, also known as “Giglio Sunday,” will include a Capo Parade at 9 a.m., a noon Mass honoring St. Paolino, and the Dancing of the Giglio and the Boat at 2 p.m. On Wednesday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m. is the Night Dance of the Giglio.
“On Saturday, July 16, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Masses will be celebrated in five different languages as our parish welcomes all to our church,” said Carolyn Stone, a spokesperson for the event. “Mass will be celebrated in English, Italian, Spanish, Creole and Polish on that day, and we hope that both our regular parishioners and new neighbors will join us at Mass on this special day, as well as enjoy the pageantry and festivities from July 6 to July 17.”
The celebration will be concluded on July 17 with the Old Timers’ Giglio, Capo Parade, Dancing of the Giglio, Old Timers’ Lift, return of the Statue to the Church, and lastly, a benediction.