The Dance of the Giglio Feast once again returns to East Harlem in Manhattan beginning on Thursday, August 8th. It will be held on Pleasant Avenue between 114th and 116th Streets. East Harlem, once the largest Italian community in the United States, provides wonderful memories for countless people. 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.
The Giglio Society of East Harlem, sponsors of the celebration, is a devoted group who has dedicated their lives to honor Sant’ Antonio. Their devotion is on display each year during this annual event. The origin of the society traces its heritage back to the town of Brusciano, Italy, approximately 20 miles outside of Naples. The feast began in the 1880s, when Zi Cecca DeFalco prayed to Sant’ Antonio to help cure his deathly ill child. In exchange, Zi Cecca vowed to honor the saint in the same manner as the town’s people of Nola, Italy, a nearby town. Nola honored San Paolino by constructing a Giglio in his honor and ‘dancing’ it through the streets. DeFalco’s prayers were answered and the dancing of the Giglio in Brusciano was born. It continues today when six Gigli are built for the annual festival and danced on the shoulders of hundreds of men.
Upon their arrival in America, the Italian immigrants of East 106th Street in East Harlem decided to continue their beloved traditions by building a Giglio and dancing it in the ‘New World.’ The first Giglio feast started over a century ago.
A Giglio is a 75 to 85 foot tall wooden structure weighing almost four tons and is carried on the shoulders of over 100 men. It has a paper mache face and is adorned with beloved saints and colorful flowers. The face of the Giglio is one of the crucial components, made from scratch each year to specification of the Maestro di Festa in Italy. On the platform, just above the base, sits a Festa Band. The music inspires the lifters, called Paranza in Italian, to take on the weight of the Giglio as they dance it in harmony with the melodies.
The 2019 Dance of the Giglio Feast begins on Thursday, August 8th at 6:00 pm. Opening night will feature the festival’s first ever Sausage and Peppers Eating Contest. It will be followed at 7:00 pm with the singing of Al Sapienze and Deborah Renard, along with DJ Lou Toro playing Doo-Wop classics. On Friday, August 9th at 7:00 pm, the East Harlem Giglio Freestyle for a Cure Concert, featuring the Kings of Freestyle, TKA and Soave takes place to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Cancer Society. Later, DJ Agostino and MC John Luciano will be playing Freestyle until 11:00 pm.
On Saturday, August 10, the procession through the streets of East Harlem in honor of Sant’ Antonio begins at noon. At 6:00 pm, hats and shirts will be distributed to the children in attendance, who will be lifting the Children’s Giglio with the Dance of the Children’s Giglio taking place at 7:00 pm, followed by Whoz Ya Daddy, playing songs of the 70s, 80s and 90s until 11:00 pm.
Giglio Sunday, August 11, will begin with a Mass for the Paranza at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Pontifical Shrine Church at noon. At 1:30 pm, the Giglio will be danced with additional lifts and music by Danny Vecchiano and his Giglio Band, accompanied by the Giglio singer Jimmy Alleva. Danny and his Giglio Band, along with Jimmy have been an integral part of East Harlem Giglio, Long Island Sons of San Paolino and the Brooklyn Giglio in Williamsburg for many years. There will be entertainment by DJs Mike G and MC John Luciano from 8:00 pm until 11:00 pm.
Food vendors will be available throughout the feast offering beverages, pizza, sausage and pepper sandwiches, zeppole, steak, seafood and more. Rides and games of chance will also be available for everyone’s enjoyment. Parking is available in the parking garage, a half block from the Feast on East 116 Street between Pleasant Avenue and East River Drive (116 St. exit).