By Julia Nikhinson
NEW YORK (AP) — Revelers in the thousands recently returned to Havemeyer Street in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood to celebrate the annual Giglio Feast after its first-ever cancellation in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then have reduced crowds in 2021.
The party, first held in Williamsburg in 1903 by immigrants from Nola, Italy, combines two celebrations.
One, usually held on June 22, is dedicated to Saint Paulinus, bishop of Nola from 409 to 431 AD, and the other, celebrated on July 16, to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the name given to the Virgin Mary. by the Order of Carmelites of the Catholic Church. While the party spanned several weeks between the holidays, it has since been combined into a 12-day event.
Throughout the festivities, members of the Catholic Church and surrounding community stroll the streets, savoring food from pop-up food stalls and playing carnival games.
“I’ve always been hypnotized by partying,” said Robert Mestrandrea. “As we got older, the devotion to the Blessed Mother grew, as well as the love for the feast.”
Mestrandrea, 20, has been an altar server at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church for eight years.
The highlight of the celebration is the raising of the Giglio, an 80-foot, 4-ton tower crowned with a life-size Saint Paulin figurine. As 100 to 150 men struggle to march with the Giglio on their shoulders, an older man takes the lead, clearing the way and waving a cane while shouting directions.
In 2019, the church, which has run the festival since the 1950s, issued a call for volunteers for the first time, citing difficulties passing the tradition on to the next generation.
However, this year no such announcement was necessary as more than enough volunteers came forward as a result of the pandemic, said Bishop Jamie Gigantiello, the church pastor.
For many participants, the holiday not only serves as a religious celebration, but also as a gathering for the community.
“The party has changed a lot because the neighborhood has gentrified and a lot of oldies have moved away – but they’re coming back for the party,” Gigantiello said. “So it’s a bit like a meeting of the parishioners of this parish and the people who lived in this neighborhood”
Anthony Inserelli, 26, born and raised in Williamsburg, has been coming to the party since he could walk.
Inserelli is one of the weightlifters, lifting since 2009 or 2010.
“I was born into it and that’s it,” he said. “I had no choice.”
Inserelli described the Giglio uplift as painful and cumbersome, but said “if everyone works together, it’s one of those things that everyone enjoys”.
Although an Italian-American tradition, the holiday reaches out to other ethnic groups as well, celebrating a mass in five languages on the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Marie Guerda Périclès came to the United States from Haiti 31 years ago, settling first in Florida.
The state did not feel at home and two years later Pericles moved to New York. Since then, she has been a parishioner at the Sanctuary Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Pericles remembers celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Haiti, a tradition she hopes parents will pass on to their children in New York. She estimates that more than 1,000 Haitians attend the Giglio festival each year, with some, like Pericles’ sister, making the pilgrimage from other countries.
But some, like Tristan Alexander, strolled into the party for the first time this year.
“We were just walking by and we heard the music and all the lights and everything and we wanted to come check it out,” Alexander said. “I like it, it’s cute.”
As the raising of the Giglio is the high point of the festival, parishioners and visitors flock to the church to walk in processions and light votive candles.
On July 16, men carried the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel from her sanctuary. Hundreds of people dragged a float with the statue for more than three hours, some raising rosaries and others reaching to touch it.
Other times people would kneel at the shrine, praying to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Gigantiello, the master of ceremonies for the event, emphasized the significance of the holiday as the church’s biggest outreach event of the year, bringing young people to carry on the Italian tradition.
“The Italians built this city. They built this country. They came here and they contributed to this country,” he said. “And it’s a way to keep their memory alive.”
Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.