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New York City (NYC)
Dance of the Giglio Festival

Dance of the Giglio Festival
Photo Credit: NY Daily News

The Dance of the Giglio is a traditional annual summer festival held in the town of Nola, southern Italy. The Nolani, who started settling down in Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in the 1880s, brought the tradition with them. From there, it spread into Astoria Queens, East Harlem Manhattan and Massapequa Long Island. The new life in the new world was full of uncertainty. Naturally, Italian immigrants tried to hold on to what was dear to their hearts and reminded them of their homeland: food, culture, religion and tradition.

The Dance of the Giglio celebrates the joyous homecoming of Saint Paolino di Nola, the town’s patron. As story goes, around 410 CE the town of Nola was overrun by North African pirates, who abducted a lot of young man into slavery. Moved by the tears of an old widow, whose only son was one of the captives, Bishop Paolino took the young man’s place and was ferried away into slavery. While in Northern Africa, the story of Paolino’s sacrifice became known to a Turkish sultan. Overwhelmed by this tale of selflessness and courage, the sultan negotiated the release of Paolino and his fellow Nolani. The entire town rejoiced at the safe return and greeted it with lilies – symbol of purity and love. This flower adorned celebration developed into what later became an annual feast. Over the years, various trade guilds (blacksmiths, tailors, bakers etc.) competed with each other to create the most elaborate display of flowers, which evolved eventually into wooden steeples decorated with lilies (gigli).

In NYC, the celebration comes complete with music and food. The sidewalks are lined up with food stands selling zeppoli, fennel cakes, Italian sausages, lemonade and souvenirs. The tradition of the Giglio Festival is passed down from generations of Italian Americans. It is a celebration of community and family. Those values never go out of fashion.

The actual “dance” is the lifting and carrying – and “dancing” through the streets – of a huge platform holding a large band and topped by a tower in honor of the patron saint. In all it weighs several tons. The lifters are local young men who earn the honor. They are directed by a “capo,” an experienced lifter who has earned the special status through community activity. The event takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the heat of early July.





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