East Harlem, once the largest Italian community in the US is a pleasant memory for countless former inhabitants. To renew that memory, thousands of former residents along with their children and grandchildren will be returning to renew that bond and meet up with friends in the old neighborhood for the Feast of Giglio di Sant’Antonio sponsored by the Giglio Society of East Harlem.
The Giglio Society of East Harlem is a devoted group who have dedicated their lives to honor Sant’ Antonio, their beloved saint. Their love and devotion is on display each year during their Annual Festival held in East Harlem, New York. They honor their Patron Saint in very much the same fashion as their ancestry did and still do annually today in Brusciano, Italy by building a Giglio and dancing it in the streets of Manhattan, N.Y.
The origins of the Giglio Society trace their heritage back to the town of Brusciano, Italy approximately 20 miles outside of Naples. Here an annual Feast called the Dance of the Giglio takes place in honor of Sant’ Antonio. The feast originally began back in the 1880’s when Zi Cecca DeFalco prayed to Sant’ Antonio to help cure his deathly ill child.
In exchange for this cure, Zi Cecca vowed to honor Sant’ Antonio in the same manner the town’s people of Nola, Italy, a nearby town honoring San Paolino di Nola, by constructing Gigli in honor of Sant’ Antonio and dancing them in the streets of Brusciano. Zi Cecca’s prayers were answered and the dancing of the Gigli in
Brusciano was born. It continues today where 6 Gigli are built for the Annual Festival during the latter part of August and danced on the shoulders of hundreds of men
For those unfamiliar with the Giglio (pronounced JEEL-YO)-it is a 75 to 85 foot tall wooden structure weighing approx 8,000 lbs with a paper-mache face adorned with beloved saints and colorful flowers. The face of the Giglio is one of the crucial components of the Giglio, each made from scratch each year to specification of the Maestro di Festa (or Master of Ceremonies) in Italy. Although the face changes yearly, one consistent fact remains and that it- the town’s patron saint can be found somewhere on the face and more likely on the top. Giglios are built in honor of a town’s patron saint and carried on the shoulders of approximately 120 men in a ritual that dates back to 409AD in the town of Nola Italy. Today, Giglio feasts are found throughout a number of towns in the surrounding area of Naples. Each town varies the tradition to meet the local town’s tradition.
On the platform just above the base of the Giglio sits a multi-piece band along with several singers. The music is an instrumental part of the dancing of the Giglio as it inspires the Lifters (also known as the ‘”Paranza” in Italian) to take on the burdening weight of the Giglio and band and dance it in harmony to the music being played.
Around the turn of 1900’s, Italian immigrants left Italy in search of a better life for their families. During this time, Southern Italy was a very desperate place holding little or no promise of a bright future for the many starving and hungry families. Many had no choice but to pack up their belongings and take a chance on moving to the promise of ‘The New World’ – America !
Upon their arrival, the Italian immigrants of East 106th Street in East Harlem decided to initiate their beloved traditions by building a Giglio and dancing it in the ‘New World’. The first Giglio Feast on 106th street in East Harlem started approximately 1908. Giocchino Vivolo is credited for being the first Capo Paranza on 106th Street. He along with his brother Rocco Vivola were members of the Bruscianese Society and were influential in bringing this tradition to East Harlem from Brusciano, Italy. The Festival on 106th Street grew for many years becoming one of the largest street fairs in America and remained that way until 1955. Then in 1957, the Festival moved a few blocks uptown to 108th Street where the Dance of the Giglio continued until 1971 .
After a 29 year hiatus, the Dance of the Giglio returned to East Harlem in 2000 as a Cooperative Feast with the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that resides on 115th Street between 1st and Pleasant Avenues. The Festival enjoyed several years dancing the Giglio during the Annual Feast of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel that takes place each year on July 16th, the Feast Date of the Madonna.
For the 2006 Feast, it was decided to hold the Dance of the Giglio Festival separate from the annual Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast. The Giglio Society of East Harlem continues as a Society under the auspices of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine Church.
Thursday August 10th 2017:
6:00 P.M. – Feast Opening Night – Featuring “The Brooklyn Keys” playing your Favorite Oldies 8-11pm
Friday August 11th 2017:
8:00 P.M. – DJ Mike G & MC John Luciano with Freestyle Legend Soave, singing “Crying over you” and all of his hits 8-11pm
Saturday August 12th 2017:
12:00 P.M. – Sant’ Antonio Procession
6:00 P.M. – Hats & Shirts will be distributed to the Children in attendance who will be Lifting The Children’s Giglio
7:00 P.M. – Dancing the Children’s Giglio
8:00 P.M. – Featuring “The Bel Airs” Playing their Doo Wop Sounds 8-11pm
Sunday August 13th 2017:
12:00 P.M. – Paranza Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine Church
1:30 P.M. – First Lift & Dancing the Giglio di Sant’ Antonio
8:00 P.M. – Entertainment DJ Mike G & MC John Luciano Playing your Favorite Songs 8-11pm
The Giglio will be danced Sunday August 13th after the Paranza Mass at 1:00 pm The Dance of the Giglio di Sant’Antonio will begin at 1:00 pm with additional lifts and music by Danny Vecchiano and his Giglio Band, accompanied by the Giglio singer Jimmy Alleva. Danny and his band along with Jimmy have been an integral part of the East Harlem Giglio, Long Island Sons of San Paolino as well as the Brooklyn Giglio in Williamsburg for many years.
Food vendors will be available offering beverages,pizza, sausage and peppers, zeppole, steak, shish kabob, seafood and other food items. In addition, Souvenir Tshirts will also be sold). Rides and Games of Chance will also be available for everyone’s enjoyment.
**Parking is available in the parking garage (1/2 block from the Feast) on East 116 street between Pleasant Avenue and East River Drive (116 st exit)..Garage is monitored, secure and open 24 hours with reasonable rates.
Regarding updates on events sponsored by The Giglio Society of East Harlem go to www.eastharlemgiglio.org
For additional 2017 feast info contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-831-6665
- Harlem/Havana Music & Cultural Festival From Harlem, New York And Cuba (harlemworldmag.com)
- Top Holiday Stories Of All Time (ltdcommodities.com)