By Alex Rush
The more things change, the more the Feast of the Giglio stays the same.
The Williamsburg tradition of local strongmen hoisting a three-ton statue of a saint while onlookers snack on Italian street food hasn’t changed much in its 124-year history. And that’s just the way frequent feast-goers like it.
“People who have grown up in the neighborhood want the tradition to stay the same so they can experience it year after year,” said Vinny Occuito, this summer’s head “Capo,” who directs the Giglio lifters.
The Feast of the Giglio honors Italy’s St. Paulinus, who in the fifth century offered himself into slavery to save his son and then managed to escape. When he returned to his hometown, he was showered with lilies. The church-sponsored Havemeyer Street celebration pays tribute to St. Paulinus with the giglio, which means lily but is actually a giant tower equipped with a model of the saint.
After more than 120 years, the “Dancing of the Giglio” is still the festival’s main attraction. Who wouldn’t want to see 130 men carry a lily-covered, 80-foot-tall tower on their shoulders through the street for five hours? And if that wasn’t enough heavy-lifting, an additional 120 men parade around with a life-size reproduction of St. Paulinus’s boat. Three lifts will occur during the festival, the first on July 10.
Of course, the Feast is also famous for its carnival rides, fried dough-hawking vendors and daily masses at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Feast and Festival of the Giglio [275 N. Eighth St. at Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg, (718) 384-0223], July 6-17. The giglio is lifted on July 10 at 1 pm, July 13 at 6 pm and July 17 at 1 pm. For info, visit www.olmcfeast.com.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini