by Michelle Powers and Timothy Harfmann
For many in Williamsburg, the blares of an Italian 10-piece band are the sounds of home, and the aromas of spicy sausages, the smell of it.
“You come home every year for the feast, no matter what,” said a lifelong attendee, speaking about the one and only Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as the “Giglio Festival.”
You can ask anyone in Brooklyn, Williamsburg has changed a lot in the past 100 years, but one thing has stayed constant and that’s the “giglio” tradition.
Come July, rain of shine, heat or breeze, St. Paulinus graces the Williamsburg skyline, calling those who moved away and those who still remain, onto the city streets.
The Feast, scheduled to run this year from July 10 to July 21, attracts thousands every year and it’s all about tradition…and brute strength.
More than 100 men parade around a four-ton, seven-story structure commemorating the life of San Paolino, a bishop in the Italian town of Nola who lived in the fifth century. But, in order for the so-called giglio to continue soaring into the Williamsburg skies, extra manpower is needed.
“At my age, the body, the joints don’t hold up like they used to,” said Archie Pirro, a longtime lifter.
For the first time since 1903, the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation is holding a recruitment drive.
“It’s very hard to get the younger generation involved,” said Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, pastor. “Many of the lifters that are lifting today grew up in the neighborhood, but since the neighborhood has changed, many people have moved away.”
This year’s feast will go on as planned, but recruiting new members, Msgr. Gigantiello said, is vital to lift the Italian- American tradition into the next generation.
“Like every organization, you need new blood to come in,” said Mark Masioli, one of the feast’s organizers, “You always need men. We want to continue this tradition for another hundred years. To do that, we need new people.”
In just one night, organizers of the feast recruited 20 people to do the honors of lifting, but they still need more.
Nino Colombo joined as one of the 20. He grew up in Williamsburg and attended the feast as a child. Now four decades later, he’s returning back.
“I want to try something new for a change,” he said. “I want to support a friend of mine who’s been doing this for 22 years.”
Sammy Ciorciari, another new lifter, also grew up in the neighborhood. Now a resident of Long Island, he’s excited to return back to his roots.
“I finally found myself saying, ‘Hey, I’ve never been a lifter.’ So, I want to take advantage of it,” he said.
The feast isn’t only about tradition, more importantly, the lifters say, it’s about faith. The men who lift the giglio do so in memory of late family members and friends.
“You’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders,” Pirro said, “you’re doing a penance for those who can’t do it for themselves.”
Ciorciari plans to honor his cousin Anthony, who died last year. He says he’s going to devote his lift in “memory of him, to keep what we had as kids alive.”