Zeppole + Rocco (my dad)

The feast is starting today! And it’s not just about winning goldfish and eating zeppoles, though that is how we celebrate it in my family. The story behind the feast began in a little town outside of Naples called Nola.

(If you don’t know what a zeppole is, read about it here.)

The feast in “Italian Williamsburg” is actually two feasts in one. The “Giglio” part of the feast honors Saint Paolino of Nola, who is celebrated because he sacrificed himself to North African slave abducting pirates in order to free a young man from the hometown. Word spread of his courage and a Turkish sultan talked to a guy and Saint Paolini and his “paesani” (homeboys) were freed.

The feast culminates on July 16th to honor Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Referred to as the Blessed Mother, the devotion to the Virgin by Southern Italians often leaves you asking, “God who?”

Even though we love our Madonna in Brooklyn, that aspect of the feast was added on later. The feast was originally was all about the Giglio.


What does giglio mean? It is even harder to pronounce – (jill-eey-yo). Gigli (plural) are lilies.

Back in Nola there were fierce competitions between all the tradesman of the town to make the most gorgeous lily displays for Saint Paolino.

Today, in true Italian-American fashion (think marble columns on frame houses) the giglio “evolved” into a flamboyant flower laden 4 ton 65 foot high steeple. A boat snuck it’s way in there, too and the structures are carried, with a band and the symbolic Turk on top, through the streets by the best “lifters” in town. The Capo, the man in charge, orders the lifters to do all sorts of maneuvers with the giglio. All the while the crowd cheers and music is played, including the most important song, the Giglio Song (O’ Giglio’e Paradiso).

The Eyetalians sure know how to put on a show! According to the feast website (yes it has a website!) “the Italian Williamsburg community holds three holidays dear: Christmas, Easter and the Giglio Feast.”

Aside from the many “lifts” scheduled (see below) the first Saturday is known as Questa, when bread is handed out “throughout the street of Brooklyn in symbolic remembrance of San Paolino giving away all his earthly possession for a life of celibacy.

Yes, there are rides and food and games, too!

All events take place near Havemeyer & North 8th St. For more info visit the feast website.

Here is the schedule:
Opening Night = Thursday July 5th 2012
Children’s Giglio Lift #1 = Friday July 6th 2012
Questa = Saturday July 7th 2012
Giglio Sunday = Sunday July 8th 2012
Night Lift = Wednesday July 11th 2012 (rain date = Thursday July 12th 2012)
Children’s Giglio Lift #2 = Friday 13th 2012
Old Timers Day = Sunday July 15th 2012
Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Day = Monday July 16th 2012

All information for this article was found at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Website.

Below is a video of a feast in Nola, Italy in 1923, then the feast in Williamsburg in 2011.

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