The Giglio Feast, a Williamsburg tradition since 1903, is going on now in the streets around Our Lady of Mount Carmel church on Havemeyer. And while most of Giglio will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been to any NYC Italian street feast–there are lots of cigars, fried sausages, zeppole, carnival rides, and sucker games–it’s the crazy spectacle of the highly ritualized “lifts” that makes the Williamsburg festival so special.
Yesterday was the first and most extravagant of the four lifts that happen over the course of the feast, and thousands of people showed up to watch and cheer and get yelled at repeatedly by the NYPD to “move back, move back, everybody MOVE BACK.” The lift is a symbolic retelling of an incident between Bishop Paolino and a Turkish Sultan that occurred in 410 AD in the Italian town of Nola, but mostly it serves as an outlet for community pride.
Here’s how Giglio Sunday works: At one end of the block a group of big guys in red shirts gets under the 80-foot-tall, four-ton Giglio tower carrying “Paolino”; at the other end a group of big guys in blue shirts hoist a boat, upon which the Turk brandishes his sword and tosses buckets of confetti. An entire marching band also climbs up on these enormous structures and, after the Star Spangled Banner is played for some reason, they are bounced and rotated and carried, spurred on by the comically dramatic urgings of the capos, until they meet in front of the church. And the crowd goes wild.
Although Giglio Sunday is the main event, there are three other lifts still to come: the Children’s Lift on Tuesday July 10, the undoubtedly beer-fueled Night Lift on Wednesday July 11th, and the Old Timer’s Lift on Sunday the 15th. And, of course, the Feast itself goes on daily until July 16.