The Fisherman's Feast, Boston

The Giglio
The Giglio Festival in the United States and the importance of Religious Feasts in the lives of Italian Americans.

No one who has observed the life of Italian Americans can deny the role that Festas have played. Simply put, from the beginning of the establishment of ethnic enclaves, religious feasts have been an undeniable part of the Italian milieu. Celebrated essentially in the same manner as patron saint day festas were conducted in Italy, virtually every Little Italy from the east to the west coast hosted similar behavior patterns: processions, dazzling lights, fireworks, food displays, dances, music, etc. Thus there are feasts in honor of numerous saints: Gennaro, Sebastian, Rocco, Joseph, Cono, Liberata, Anthony, etc., and of course the Blessed Mother in multiple titles.

One of the most impressive feasts that has endured for more than a century, and that carries on a sixteen hundred-year tradition in Italy, is the Feast of St. Paolino and Our Lady of Mount Carmel celebrated in Brooklyn, New York. The Giglio feast was introduced to Brooklyn by immigrants from Nola, Italy in honor of the sacrifice made by fifth century Bishop Paulino to enter slavery in order to free a young captive from Nola. This action won his captor's admiration and led to his freedom. It led also to Nola's appreciation that manifested itself in greeting his return with lilies. Every year Nola townspeople celebrated the occasion with a spectacular feast that was transplanted to this country in 1888. From that date to the present, the cohesive Italian neighborhood of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn conducts the commemoration highlighted by the "dancing" of the Giglio -a sixty-five foot, four ton tower. After Sunday Mass, the Giglio, decorated with papier-mâché angels, saints, and flowers and set off with a statue of San Paulino on the pinnacle, is ready to be carried through the street. Over 100 men (lifters) directed by "capos" then carry the structure a couple of dozen yards. A similar crew carries a large boat reminiscent of the vessel that brought San Paolino back to Nola from slavery. Organizers, participants, and thousands of spectators readily are engulfed in the joyous atmosphere. So popular is this feast that in recent years a subsidiary Giglio feast is held in a shopping mall on Long Island.

The Madonna dei Martiri, Hoboken, New Jersey. (Photo: Paul Porcelli).
The Feast of Saint Lucy, Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo: Marty Caliendo)
Feast of San Gennaro, New York City

View Previous Entry     View Next Entry       Back to Timeline