Annual Giglio feast displays Williamsburg’s Italian roots

The neighborhood may have changed over the years, but one Williamsburg tradition certainly still remains.

The Annual Giglio Italian Feast Spectacular kicked off on Wednesday, July 5 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church, located at 275 North Eighth Street.

The 12-day world-class festival, which honors San Paolino with faith, feasting and music, has deep roots in Williamsburg’s Italian population.

“It’s a wonderful celebration of an Italian tradition,” said Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, the parish’s spiritual leader, a Long Island City native who attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel as a child. “We had a terrific crowd and wonderful mass. The church was filled.”

The celebration first began in 1903, as a wave of Neapolitan immigrants from Italy settled in Williamsburg and brought the traditions of their homeland with them.

During the celebration, a five-story, hand-crafted tower featuring a statue of San Paolino and a 12-member brass band playing on a platform is lifted and carried by a 125-man group through the streets of Williamsburg. In keeping with tradition, an honored man of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish uses a megaphone to call out directions to the lifters.

Celebrants also re-enact the release of San Paolino from captivity, which includes the use of  an ornate, custom-made ship docking on the street. An array of Italian-themed souvenirs, rides and delicacies, such as zeppole and braciole, are also available for purchase.

“The neighborhood is different than it was 30 years, but I know some of the old timers are still around,” said Gigantiello. “My favorite part is being there every night and seeing so many people that come back to the neighborhood to visit their roots, where they were married, baptized and had children. They reacquaint themselves with old friends, family members, the neighborhood and the parish.

“Even though it’s changed and old people move out and new people move in, the church has continued to be the center of the community,” he added.

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