A feast, a statue, and over one hundred years of tradition brought crowds out to the streets of Williamsburg on Sunday, July 9 to see the first lift of an eighty-foot-tall statue of Saint Paolino.
The 130th Giglio Feast, which is 40 years older than and second in size only to Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival, is hosted by Our Lady of Mount Carmel located at 275 North 8th Street (at Havemeyer Street).
As the 125 lifters picked up and paraded the five-story platform and statue of Saint Paolino, a twelve-piece brass band played and a priest blessed the crowds that surged to follow the gorgeous, 4-ton tower, adorned with red, white and blue lilies (“giglio” is Italian for lilies).
Among the huge crowds gathered, friends and neighbors greeted each other, reminiscing over a tradition that dates back to 1903 and the arrival of Neapolitan immigrants to New York. One man explained to newcomers where to stand, welcomed them to the feast, and told them of his recently deceased mother-in-law who had come to the festival annually—“like a kid in a candy store,” for more than 90 years.
Another couple on Havermeyer Street spoke of growing up in Williamsburg, the old neighborhood, and of the bowling alley they remembered. They met each other at the feast one year: he was a lifter, and she saw him under the statue, telling her mother, “I’m going to marry that boy.” They’ve been together nearly 50 years now.
Despite the Sunday heat, the streets were crowded, with many attendees ducking under the shade of tents to drink beers and dine on Italian treats like zeppoles, braciole, Italian sausages, and all manner of fried festival fare.
With confetti flying, bands playing, and people dancing, it was easy for any New Yorker to get caught up in the feeling of community—whether Italian or not, a Brooklynite or a visitor—it was a feast for the people.
The Giglio Feast will continue into the coming week with lifts on Wednesday, July 12 at 6pm and Saturday, July 15 at 4pm, wrapping with a celebration of the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Sunday, July 16.
130th Giglio Italian Feast
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 275 North 8th Street (at Havemeyer Street), Williamsburg
Monday – Friday, 6pm to 11pm
Saturday, 6pm to midnight
Sunday, 12pm to 11pm