Its that time of the year again, when a large group of dedicated Italians work diligently together in mind, soul and spirit in preparation for one of their most important and celebrated traditional feasts, the " Giglio di Sant' Antonio in East Harlem." Bobby Maida, the Promotions Manager of the Giglio Society of East Harlem sent me this press release which he would like for me to share with you.
"East Harlem, once the largest Italian community in NYC 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 group of men 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.
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. 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.
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 yearly in honor of Sant’ Antonio. The feast originally began back in the 1880’s when Francisco Vivolo prayed to Sant’ Antonio to help cure his deathly ill child. In exchange for this cure, Francisco 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. Francisco’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..
Around the turn of 1900’s, Italian immigrants left Italy in search of a better life for their families. Many families from the town of Brusciano, Italy migrated to East Harlem, NY to start anew with other families and friends that came before them. Although these Immigrants brought little with them on their 30-day long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in the tight confines of the boat, what they did carry with them were their beloved traditions. For the people of Brusciano, this included the yearly Dance of the Giglio Festival in honor of Sant’Antonio.
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 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 decision to move the Dancing of the Giglio dates made absolute sense in order to relieve the strain on the Giglio community. This strain was caused by the coinciding Giglio Feasts held in East Harlem and Williamsburg- Brooklyn ( www.olmcfeast.com ) dancing their Giglio on the same weekend that fell around July 16th , the Feast date of the Madonna.
The Giglio Society of East Harlem continues as a Society under the auspices of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine Church. Their beloved Pastor Father Peter J Rofrano..who they view as a legend in East Harlem and primarily responsible for the return of the Giglio…… passed away on May 19th, 2007. Father Chris Salvatori who spent much of his early priesthood under Father Rofrano’s guidance describes Father Rofrano as “the icon of East Harlem.” Father returned to our Lord after almost 91 yrs here…. 3/4s of them living and working in East Harlem.
The 2008 Dance of the Giglio Feast will be held on Pleasant Avenue between 114th and 116th Streets. Food vendors will be available offering beverages, sausage and peppers, zeppole, steak, shish kabob,, seafood and other food items. In addition, Souvenir Tshirts will also be sold (get there early for the shirts go fast). Rides and Games of Chance will also be available for everyone’s enjoyment.
Opening Night is Thursday—August 7th with entertainment at 8pm by the Brooklyn Keys . Friday night August 8th there will be entertainment at 8pm by a fabulous Doo Wop group….. Tony Sal and Just Nuts.
Saturday August 9th will start with a Procession in honor of Sant’ Antonio at Noon. 7 PM will be the Dancing of the Children’s Giglio followed by DJ entertainment by Megan Z.
Giglio Sunday August 10th will start with a mass for the Paranza at Our Lady of Mount Carmel at 12:30 pm. The Dance of the Giglio di Sant’Antonio will begin at 2:00pm with additional lifts and music by Danny Vecchiano and his Giglio Band. Danny and his band have been an integral part of the East Harlem Giglio as well as the Brooklyn Giglio in Williamsburg for many years. In addition, our new Ladies Auxiliary the Giglio Girls will make their inaugural appearance.
Have you wanted to eat at Rao’s and can’t get a reservation? Here is your chance. The famous restaurant…a long time Giglio supporter will provide Dinner for 4 on Tuesday September 16, 2008 to the lucky winner of The Giglio Society’s Annual Raffle. Tickets are $10 each. The drawing will be held on Giglio Sunday nite. Winner does not have to be present. All proceeds from the Raffle go directly towards the continuation of the Giglio tradition.
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