Monday, July 14, 2008

"La Festa del Giglio" at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

The neighborhood of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, New York, like all neighborhoods, has been changing and evolving since Brooklyn became a borough of New York city in 1893 . At one time this neighborhood had a very large Italian population, and today many other ethnic groups also have enclaves within Williamsburg, including Germans, Hasidic Jews, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. The neighborhood is also a magnet for young people moving to New York City. It is a mix of the old...

......and new, with a thriving art community, and a young hip scene. Many young professionals live in Williamsburg as it has a quick commute to Manhattan, and the rents are not quite as expensive.
For 121 years the Italian community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn reenacts a fourth century pageant which commemorates the return of the Bishop of Nola, Paolino, from captivity. His release from Moorish slavery was cause for a great festival which became famous throughout Southern Italy.
There is week long bazaar and carnival type atmosphere along Havemeyer Street with many food and other vendors and small rides for children, and games of chance.
On July 13, 2008 the "Dancing of the Giglio & Boat," occurred, and this was the most elaborate day of the festival. We arrived early, and already the crowd was forming. In a few hours there will be an estimated 15,000 people along this route to watch the carrying of the boat and Giglio.

There are all kinds of Italian specialty foods and gifts. Notice the funny sayings on the t-shirts in this booth! ( click to enlarge ll photos)

The smell of frying sausages and onions and peppers and steak and braciole was everywhere!

This booth is making the ubiquitous zeppoles that are found at every Italian festival. They are fried sweet dough which are sprinkled with power sugar. The booth had about 850 pounds of flour stacked behind it ready to be used today!

How could we resist? We had a sausage and pepper and onion hero with a Manhattan Special espresso soda that is made nearby in Brooklyn........

.......and a bag of zeppoles for dessert! They are so good -- hot, and sweet!

We walked over to look at the platform which holds the boat, or La Barca as it is called in Italian. Later, a small band and the man chosen to be the "Turk" will climb onto this platform and 150 men, or paranzas, will lift this structure up on their shoulders and slowly move it down the street. This is a reproduction that shows how St. Paolino was returned to his people by boat, a Moorish Galleon, and met on the shores of Nola, Italy as joyous townspeople held lilies in their hands as a sign of homage.

Below is the Lily, or Giglio as it is called in Italian. It is represented by a 72 foot tall tower, and weigh 4 tons when the band is on the platform, and it will also be lifted and carried by 150 men lead by a single man called "The Capo" or "Capo Peranza."
The Giglio is adorned with flowers and angels and on the top is a statue of St. Paolino

You can see the platform the towers rests on in the photo below.

A close up photo of "Our Lady Of Mount Carmel" that is on the Giglio. This is the name of the church that sponsors the festival in Brooklyn.

A close up of St.Paolino on the very top of the tower.

There is also a smaller children's Giglio, which can be seen on the church steps below. The parish children carried this in a procession earlier in the week.

This year the men who carried the Giglio and the boat were dressed in a green T-shirts. Every year the shirt is a different color. They have a procession to the Giglio tower.

The "The Turk" goes to the boat platform.

The band marches by playing traditional Italian songs.

The boat is lifted and carried down the street.

The band is in place on the Giglio's platform.

A priest from the church of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel is on the platform and does and invocation and blesses the crowd.

The Giglio tower is lifted and turned or "danced" around and around while the band plays and crowd cheers! It is very exciting to see!
The photos below show a sequence of the turning of the Giglio tower.

Remember this Giglio tower weighs 4 tons! As the Giglio passed by I took the following photos of the strong men who lift it on their shoulders.

These men are on the side and have to walk sideways. You can see how they are straining.

The men in the corners all hold their arms like this to give balance to the tower. The Capo is on the platform and he instructs the men when to lift, when to turn, and when to let the tower down and rest, all the while the band is playing.

Meanwhile, the boat is also slowly making its way down the street, also being carried on a platform.

The children on the boat throw paper confetti out onto the crowd and the Turk waves.

The Giglio and the boat will eventually meet in front of the church, but the procession to move them both closer and closer takes hours.

When we've come to this festival in the past I would have been right in the front of the crowd to watch, but I stayed back a little this year at the end, because I didn't want to get squeezed by the enormous crowd this year.

They are carried closer and closer......

......until both the boat and the Giglio almost touch and there is a big roar from the crowd, lots of confetti is thrown, and the reenactment of the joyful return of St. Paolino to his hometown of Nola, Italy is completed.
Here is a Youtube link to watch some of the event:

There is more about the history of "La Festa di Giglio" in Brooklyn at Our Lady of Mount Carmel feast web site here.

I hope you enjoyed seeing one of the many Italian feast day festivals that take in New York City.
Buona Festa! Ciao!


Diane@A Picture is Worth.... said...

Thanks for the field trip this morning! Now if I just had some of those zeppoles to go with my coffee!
Have a great day!

Betsy said...

Looks like a lot of fun! And the food looks amazing...suddenly, I'm starving! :)

Junie Moon said...

Such festivals always teach me something new about different heritages and the people who exhibit great pride and faith. These events are always so full of exciting energy. Isn't it wonderful that we live in a country that welcomes such diversity? Thank you for this delightful treat.

Rue said...

Good morning Pat :)

That looks like a great time and the food! Yum!! :)

The whole time until we got to the pictures of the boat, I though you were saying gigolo LOL Now I get it! ;)


Marg said...

I love it!. that makes me want to travel evermore to Italy, but maybe on the other hand I should just travel to may be cheaper.
I love your music.
The LaRose Bella tune came on when I entered the site.
How fitting.

Pat said...

Diane ~ Zeppoles are delicious! They remind me of New Orleans beignets.

Betsy ~ The smell of all the foods cooking was wonderful!

Thanks June!

Rue --ha ha! That is a common mistake. I'm sure! It took me awhile to understand that "giglio" means "lily" and why this tower is carried this way. it's s sign of sacrifice and honot towards the saint.

Marg -- thanks! There are still amy Italians living in NYC and Toronto too! My husband has cousins in Toronto, Canada. After WWII there was a disapora from southern to CA, USA and Argentina.

Jillian said...

What a neat festival...and of course I loved the pics of the food you chose to eat! Yum!

Thanks for sharing!


Strider said...

My brother in law is Italian....he'd of loved this celebration!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Thanks Pat! That was a treat to look at! We have our Italian Festa here in Chicago too which is similar and we always look forward to going. You have wet my appetite!!

Beverly said...

Wow, that was amazing. I love the story behind the tradition. I can't imagine transporting the giglio.

Thanks for another informative review.

Very interesting article on The Serenity Prayer.

Barb said...

Hi Pat,

Wow, oh wow! Thank you for sharing the day with us. It looks like it was so much fun.


CatHerder said...

I marvel EVERY YEAR at those guys that carry that always terrified its going to fall into the crowd.

Cucina Cara Mia said...

Oh do I miss those NY zeppoles, haven't had one since i moved to San Diego, I need a fix!! What an interesting festival, never knew about it when i lived in brooklyn, hope it wasn't too hot of day!

aliceinparis said...

What a marvellous event. My daughter read this me and was quite disappointed that we don't have any festivals quite like this. A spectacle of food and faith and strength and excess!!
Cheers, Shelagh

Cathy said...

Hey Pat...I'm so tickled you stopped by my place today! Your little trip looked delicious!
I have never been to New york, except on the way to Niagra Falls, on the west side of the state. Stop by again!

Dee Dee said...

Pat...I so enjoyed this post of the Giglio festivities...proud Italian community and other ethnic groups....this is America!!! I love that I have enjoyed something positive here...these are the pictures of our country...not the negatives placed in our media...Bravo've lifted my spirits today...:) Also...the google translater....I showed it to my husband...a wonderful amazing these computers :) Blessings...Dee Dee

Dee Dee said...

Oh yes...when I saw the Zeppoles the first thing I thought of were the New Orleans Beignets...:)

Alex said...

This was really cool to read about. I enjoy stopping by your page. I feel like I'm always learning a new piece of history...and it rocks! =)

Anonymous said...

What a lovely day I've just had on your travels! Such a fascinating festival. Does it date from Medieval times? In the UK there was a tradition of Medieval processionals and even some monestries had processional walks taking in the stations of the cross within their complexes. These things are rare these days. I think we have the annual "beating of the parish bounds" -a walk along the parish boundary and crowning of Mary in May but little else.

Ooo I wouldn't have liked that job of carrying -they looked like a strong bunch thankfully. My back ached just looking. My mouth watered with the food. :-)

Thank you for sharing a lovely day.

Donna said...

Hi Pat,
Wow, what an interesting celebration! The festival looks like a lot of fun, and oh, I could eat one of those zeppoles.

Our daughter lives in Brooklyn, she's works in Manhatten and is also an artist. She's been there a few years now. We love visiting NY.

Thanks for visiting my blog. It's so nice to meet new friends!


Kathy said...

Beautiful Pat, I so enjoyed Brooklyn's "La Festa del Giglio",
I think I would enjoy living in Williamsburg. I hope you purchased that cute little bib "I love Nonna" and I WILL pray for you Pat hehe. (don't tell hubby)
The Zepolles looked yummy, I love the way you can enlarge your photo's so that I can see all the details, the little childrens Giglio is so pretty, how lovely that they have their own one and carry it around to. I am off to check out your web-site's now, hugs ciao, Kathy.

Michelle said...

What a fun day~I feel like I was there! I'm really hungry now too! Thanks, as always, for taking me on an adventure.

Have a wonderful week and I hope your bursitis is better.


Joanne Kennedy said...

Well the only thing I left to say is "You New Yorkers sure know how to have fun".

I've never heard of zeppoles before but you sure made me want to try them out!

I hope you are feeling better.


Tara said...


My Mom and dad said they had been to this many times...lookingat these pics I think to myself, "Only in New York!" Great!

steviewren said...

This post racks up as another in a long list of very interesting and informative posts from Brooklyn.

We ain't got nothin lick it in Alabamy!

Cynthia said...

I really love reading your posts. They are always full of life and good info, I always leave having learnt something new. Thank you.

nanatrish said...

Pat, I love seeing and reading about all festivals and events that you guys have in NYC. There must be some activity every day. I was getting hungry just reading about all the Italian food. Yummy. Yummy. You asked me about the background for my blog. Go to and they have tons of free backgrounds. It took me a while to figure it out, but it's really easy. Go see if there's anything you like. I was just kind of tired of the water background. You and your husband must have the most fun going to these different festivals and things. Is the food pretty expensive? Later, Trish

Pat said...

Jillian --Hi, and welcome! Thanks for commenting.

Strider -- My husband is a native Italian, but his home town has a different festival and celebration. We went back to Italy once for it and we hope to go again someday soon! Boston also has nice Italian festivals.

Proud Italian Cook -- I was sure Chicago would have some festivals. too! Aren't they fun!?

Beverly -- glad you enjoyed this post and the article about the Serenity prayer. I found the history behind it fascinating too.

Barb --glad you enjoyed it!

Catherder -- It's pretty securely attached to the platform --but you never know! They are very careful.

Cucina -- I wish I could send you some zeppoles!

AliceinParis -- I think most Italians in Canada live in Toronto? Perhaps they have some festivals there?

Cathy -- always nice to cheer on a new blogger! I loved Niagara Falls also.

Dee Dee -- thanks! The Google translator is wonderful --I've had blog readers from many countries comment since I placed that on my sidebar. They probably see my Italian blog name and think I am European, so I wanted them to still be able to read my blog.

Alex -- thanks!

Melanie -- we did not have to travel far -- Williamsburg is north Brooklyn and we live on the south shore. This festival's origins are from the 4th century in Italy. Italian Americans have keep the tradition for over 121 years.

Donna -- many young professionals live in Brooklyn, Manhattan's rents are ridiculous, as I'm sure your daughter knows. Brooklyn has many wonderful neighborhoods and good transportation so it's a good alternative.

Kathy -- It took me so long it took me to figure out how to have my photos enlarge on Blogger!

Michelle -- Thanks! I'm down to two Advil a day, so I'm almost all better!

Joanne -- Zeppoles are delicious! they are like very sweet donuts. A special treat.

Tara -- I had a feeling your parents would have been to this festival when they lived in Brooklyn. It's a big event!

Steviewren -- it's only because we have so many people concentrated into such a small area in this city! We have to try to keep ourselves entertained in order to keep our sanity! LOL!

Cynthia ` Thanks! I always feel the same way when I visit your wonderful web site!

Lisa B. said...

That's wild! I wonder how many hernias result from being a carrier?! What a fun day!

Pat said...

Nanatrish -- no, the sandwhich was $5 and the zeppoles were a dozen for $4. Fair prices.
Thanks so much for the blog info -- your background was really nice!

Lisa B --those guys train for almost a year! Many seem to be bodybuilders too. It's hard work, but an honor to be able to do it and they are all very happy to do it.

Jeanne said...

Pat, when I was in N.Y. City a few years ago with my four sisters, we went to Italian Day or something like a festival, and we had a blast. I don't think it was this festival because we were there in May. Your photos are wonderful, I feel like I have been there. Great fun and now I want some of that terrific food.


I forgot to tell you I had a laugh on your comment to Beverly about no time to be obsessive, now that you blog. I so agree. It sure hasn't stopped Beverly. Smile!

M.Kate said...

Dearest Pat,
What fun!! I'd love to go there and all those food!! (NO to myself..stop thinking about food and concentrate on the exercise LOL)..WONDERFUL POST :p

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Wow...a day to remember. What a lot of things to see, and to eat! I love that t-shirt: "Approach with caution, Italian temper". Ha!~

Edie Marie's Attic said...

Hi Pat!
What a fabulous festival! Thanks for taking us with you. I really enjoyed the story, exciting to see how the two floats meet. These are some strong men that carry such heavy floats and don't tip them over. The riders have a great deal of faith in the transporters!
You and hubby had to be in Italian food heaven at the festival! Looks sooo good!!
Hugs, Sherry

Pat said...

Jeanne -- there are many different Italian festivals in NYC. One famous one is San Gennaro in Little Italy in Manhattan in the fall.

M. Kate -- you always take us to such wonderful places on your blog!

Lavinia -- aren't those t shirts for sale in that booth so funny? One I liked was "Like Wine, Italians Get Better With Age"

Edie Marie's Attic -- thanks Sherry! Those men were working hard but love to do it every year.

Penny @ Lavender Hill Studio said...

What a wonderful festival! I would have enjoyed being there. Thank you for the pictures! I almost felt like I was there...:-)

Esther said...

Hi Pat - Thanks for sharing your adventure with us! It was fun to visit Brooklyn (my father's birthplace) from California. This "trip" was a perfect beginning for tomorrow's feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

willow said...

This was fun....and that food looks amazing! Now I'm hungry! :)

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Looks as if you all had a blast! I wish that I could have shared a bag of those treats with you! Anything to help you out with your new diet. ;>

Pat said...

Penny --Glad you enjoyed it! You always share such nice places on your blog.

Esther --welcome! Have you ever visited Brooklyn, NY with your Dad? Happy feast day!

Willow -- the food is always so good at these street is one of the lures ;-)

Vee -- Iwas a good girl -- we split the zeppoles and I only had salad for dinner.

Esther said...

Oh yes! One of my favorite memories is walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with him on its 100th anniversary! :)

PS I meant to mention I love the song that plays on your blog. What is it?

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