It’s a tradition more than a century old at this point – and it’s the second largest feast in NYC, second only to the Feast of San Gennaro every September. Far from just a Brooklyn event, folks flock to Williamsburg each July from as far as Long Island, as far away as Florida and California. Heck, folks come from as far away as Italy itself!
It’s definitely one of the most glorious days the neighborhood’s ever known, and for these two weeks in July, it is almost as if, as filmmaker Tony DeNonno once put it, “Heaven touches Brooklyn…” (Now available on DVD!)
Anyway, this year’s Feast runs from Wednesday, July 8th through Sunday, July 19th, with the traditional lifting of the Giglio & Boat to take place Sunday July 12th and Sunday July 19th. (In addition, a special Night Lift will take place on Wednesday, July 15th at 8:00 pm, and the Dancing of the Children’s Giglio takes place on the evening of Thursday, July 9th). For more info, you can always visit www.OLMCFeast.com.
“Giglio” is Italian for “lily,” but this gargantuan structure – especially to anyone lifting it – could not be further from the texture or the character and quality of a lily. The structures were first erected, and lifted, as a way of showing gratitude for the tremendous generosity and charity of St. Paulinus of Nola, a history and a tradition which is expertly chronicled on the Feast’s delightful website, www.OLMCFeast.com.
The paranza, or lifters, are among the most revered in the neighborhood on these special lift days. It is considered a tremendous honor to be a part of this Williamsburg tradition, and Sunday’s lifters are very likely carrying out roles in the festivities once held by their fathers, their grandfathers, even. Adorned with classic Italian berets and red, white, and green flowers, there’s a distinct elegance and dignity to these men, despite the fact that they are usually – by necessity! – the toughest and strongest in the neighborhood.
Whether you’re arriving via the congested BQE, or the L train perhaps, even the distant sound of the Feast’s anthem “O Giglio e Paradiso” will be the first thing to bring a smile to your face. It is gypsy music for the soul, and perhaps no one plays it better than the Danny Vecchiano Band. Despite the fact that it will instantly bring back floods of memories – some happy, some bittersweet – the Feast’s music is timelessly good, and has already begun reaping fans from an entirely new generation. Even the most casual of participants can invariably be seen clapping their hands to its irresistible charms.
Next to the music, it’s pretty likely to be the savory smells of the Feast that most grab your attention. Perhaps it’s that smoky fire from the sausage stand operated by the late John Fasullo’s family. Or the Zollos’ fine seafood treats – clams, shrimp, calamari, etc. – at Louie’s Fried Clams and Seafood, directly across from the church steps. Or probably it’s everybody’s favorite, the fried zeppole that the Donatelli Family have been making for years at Dee Best Zeppole & Calzone. These sugary confections of fried dough are an instant callback to one’s childhood, and by the looks of the smiling faces of anyone carrying those little paper bags around, actually trigger those reminiscences and fond memories almost instantaneously! (And by the way, don’t forget to wash it all down with a nice Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda!)
For kids, there are all manner of rides – pony rides, ferris wheel rides, tilt-a-whirl rides, etc. For adults, there’s the Big Chair Photo, scores of Pina Colada drinks, T-shirts at the Giglio Boys’ booth, hand-rolled cigars at The Little Cigar Factory, and much, much more. But perhaps the most welcome respite from it all just might be Paul Pennolino’s “Cafe Fonti," named in honor of the parish's former pastor. Duck inside the church and head up the stairs, and stop in here for a delicious Iced Cappuccino, a refreshing Manhattan Special, a soothing Prosecco, you name it. (And home-made Cannoli and Sfogliatelle here, too!) What’s more, though – there are seats inside! (As well as inside the gym…) And fans and air-conditioning, too! Which, trust us, always prove to be pretty valuable commodities, especially when it’s really hot and steamy (and crowded) on any of the two Giglio Sundays.
Other than St. Paulinus and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel of course, the Capos are the true stars of the Feast, those entrusted with commanding the lifters and orchestrating the lifting and dancing of the Giglio. It’s among the neighborhood’s highest honors, and is a reward for years and years of dedication to the community at large and to the Feast in particular. Families like the Mirandos, the Galassos, the Pelusos, the Bonomos, et. al., thanks to the Feast, find themselves among the parish’s elite. From rope gang to No. 1 Capo, it’s a journey only the most respected in the neighborhood get to undertake. It all becomes official when the Capo Parade stops by to pick up this year’s No. 1, Patty Grande, at his house this Sunday at 9:00 am! (And make sure you also check out Old-Timers Day, Sunday July 19th, when all the former Capos return to Mt. Carmel for a ceremonial lift.)
The Century Board
This important element to the facade of the church often gets overlooked during the Feast (especially with all the hustle and bustle taking place directly in front of it all the time). And yet, it is in essence one of the most telling “signs” as to what the Feast is really all about. Inscribed on these plaques are the names of the families and businesses who’ve made the neighborhood what it is for generations and generations. Not only that, it is oftentimes the most appropriate forum for paying tribute to those vital members of the community who have left us too soon, but who will never be forgotten. Please take a look at these names next chance you get – they are the families upon whose backs the Giglio is lifted every July, but also the families upon whose backs our community’s been built the last century and more.