Quando è festa è festa
By Lori Ann Doyon
One of the wonders of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (OLMC) Feast besides the showstopper of an 80-foot tower (Giglio) that dances along Havemeyer Street while being lifted by a group of men is that it brings Italy, local immigrant history, and tradition to the community in July. When you enter the three blocks of Havemeyer Street (from North 6th to North 9th) you are whisked away by a combination time machine and Alitalia flight. Soon you will be surrounded by elements that have made NYC’s Italian street festivals iconic and their direct from Italy influences. When the men lift the Giglio they are continuing a tradition that has roots in 5th century Nola, Italy.
The tradition celebrates St. Paulinus, who when he was a bishop sacrificed his freedom so a young man who was enslaved could go free. Then in turn a Turkish sultan who was inspired by the story came to rescue the bishop and set him and his fellow slaves free. The pile of lilies (giglio) that were placed before the bishop in honor of his safe return evolved into a yearly celebration where an 80-foot tower and a boat dance in the streets of Nola, Italy and Williamsburg Brooklyn.
Sunday’s lift was a joy to behold. This year it was accompanied by a blast of gold and silver confetti. There is probably some sort of joy for the lifters, but it is certainly not an easy role to lift a tower that weighs a ton. One of this year’s lifters was mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa.
The lifters move the Giglio forward a bit, then they rotate the tower, then move forward again, then rotate again, all while a brass band plays. The lifters also carry the band and church leadership along with the tower. The weather was cloudy. It was supposed to rain but it didn’t. The temperature was close to 80°F. There have been times the mid-July heat is at full-throttle and triple digits. On Sunday, it looked like Someone up there blessed the Giglio’s return with mild weather.
There are carnival rides and games, for the kids and the kid in everyone. The best selection of street festival food, mostly Italian but there are some Latin American stalls. Cigar smoke is a factor, but it’s also part of the ambiance.
The OLMC Feast continues through July 18th. The night lift is at 7:30 p.m. on July 14, or the same time on July 15th if it rains out on the 14th.
Here is the Facebook Live video of Sunday’s Giglio lift (it begins at the 30 minute mark).