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Gear up for the Giglio - Annual Italian festival coming to Williamsburg’s streets

Joe DeStefano has been making zeppoles and calzones at the Giglio Feast in Williamsburg for more than 50 years with a technique passed down through generations.

DeStefano and other members in the community are preparing to participate in the 121st Annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel San Paolino DiNola, an Italian street festival celebrating the return of the Bishop of Nola from captivity under the Moors in 460 AD.

“I’m the oldest vendor there,” DeStefano said, who runs the DeStefano’s Steakhouse (89 Conselyea Street). “My uncle and my father did it. I did it. Now my sons do it. Wherever there’s a saint and wherever there’s a church, there’s a festival.”

Beginning on July 9 with an opening coronation mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church (275 North 8th Street) and continuing until July 20 for the Capo Parade and Dancing of the Giglio (Havemeyer and North 8th streets), the festival is expected to draw tens of thousands of observers, many former residents who have relocated out of the city.

The highlight of the festival is the Capo Parade and the Dancing of the Giglio, where 150 men will lift a 72-foot-tall wooden structure adorned with lilies, angels and a statue of San Paolino and carry it over several blocks around the parish. If the Giglio tower were not heavy enough, a 10-piece orchestra will be sitting on its base, playing traditional Italian music.

“I did my first lift in 1982. It was an amazing rush,” said Mike, a proprietor at Lorimer Street Meat Market (620 Lorimer Street), who did not want to give his last name. “We didn’t have rubber back then. We put a towel down between our shoulders and the steel and we still had welts on our backs.”

The Giglio Festival carries different meanings for those involved. New city dwellers pass through the festivities with curiosity while former residents who have grown up and moved to the suburbs return to embrace the traditions of their elders.

“I love it and my whole family comes back from Long Island,” said Mary Kenny, a Williamsburg resident. “The lifting of the statue is a family reunion. As long as the church is strong the festival will keep going.”

DeStefano agreed that the event was a neighborhood-wide reunion, where the community comes together again even if families have sold their homes or been displaced.

“You’ll always have old Italian families here. They’ll come to support the area,” DeStefano said. “It is one of the last bastions for the old school in Williamsburg. That’s why I built this restaurant and that’s what this festival is about.”

For many residents, including Geogiana Tedone, the festival commemorates the spiritual aspects of their lives. Tedone, who has been making mozzarella out of her dairy market, Tedone Latticini (595 Metropolitan) for eight decades, believes that Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been watching over Williamsburg and keeping the neighborhood intact.

“It isn’t a feast only for money. It is a feast for love and blessing,” Tedone said. “When I talk about her, my blood just jumps because of her kindness to all of us. That is how electrifying she is.”

The Feast of San Paolino di Nola and Our Lady of Mount Carmel will take place from July 9 to July 20 at the intersection of Havemeyer and North 8th Streets. For more information, visit www.olmcfeast.com.

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