The annual Giglio Feast, a Williamsburg tradition since 1903, is going on right now on the blocks around Our Lady of Mount Carmel church. And while much of the 11-day festival resembles other Italian street feasts–there are zeppoles, sausage and peppers, sucker games of “skill”–what makes Giglio unique is the incredible spectacle of the highly ritualized lifts.
Yesterday was Giglio Sunday, and so the second and most important of the four lifts that define the Feast. The lifts are all a symbolic retelling of events that went down circa 410 AD, in the Italian town of Nola, between Bishop Paolino and a Turkish Sultan, but they have also come to represent an enormous source of pride and community for the Italians of Williamsburg. As the Turk’s wooden sword says, “Brooklyn is the Heart, Nola is the Soul.”
Basically the lift works like this: one group of generally burly men gets under the 80-foot-tall, four-ton Giglio tower; another group gets under the life-sized boat on which the Turk rides; and, spurred on by the entertainingly dramatic directions of a series of Capos, both are hauled slowly from either side of Havemeyer Street until they meet in front of the church, to much rejoicing from the crowd.
Both of these massive structures also have entire bands riding on these men’s shoulders, which play things like Rocky’s theme and, of course, “O’ Giglio ‘e Paradiso.”
The Children’s Giglio Life happened last Thursday, but the Night Lift (which is always even more raucous, apparently) is this Wednesday the 13th, and the Old Timer’s Lift closes out the Feast on Sunday the 17th.