After a one year-hiatus, a 100-year-old tradition returned to Williamsburg this past week. The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast transformed multiple blocks along North 8th Street and Havemeyer Street into festival grounds, bringing food, prayer, and a massive dancing parade to North Brooklyn throughout the week-long celebration.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel first celebrated the feast in 1903, when a large number of immigrants from the Nolani region of Italy brought the tradition with them from their old country to their new home in Brooklyn. The feast itself dates back to the 5th century A.D. when Saint Paulinus — the patron saint of the Nolani people — returned home to Italy after a long and dangerous mission to North Africa.
The tradition has been handed down from generation to generation ever since, a homecoming of sorts for the Nolani community.
That theme of homecoming was extremely apparent this year. After taking a year-off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Our Lady of Mount Carmel was finally able to celebrate their ancestral festival once again.
“The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Feast, the best feast in Brooklyn, is back bigger and better than ever,” said Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. “The parish, the community, and so many others are very much looking forward to the return of such a grand and special tradition.”
The feast began on Wednesday, July 7 with a Mass at Our Lady of Mount St. Carmel, ushering in a week full of food vendors, carnival games, and reunion. However, the solemnity of the occasion was not lost on those present. This year’s feast included a special Novena (a nine-night prayer) dedicated to those who have died from the Coronavirus, front line workers and military personnel, and for those who feel disconnected from the Catholic Church.
After the introductory Mass, the Feast began in earnest. For many of the vendors present on North 8th Street, this year’s celebration also felt like a homecoming after a year without street festivals.
Our paper spoke with Marie and Alexander, a mother and son duo working for the catering company Rancho Mateo, about the festival’s return.
“We are so happy,” said Marie. “We do all the festivals around here. The Puerto Rican Festival, Fiesta del Sol. They all took last year off and it felt like the world was ending.”
“We do this festival every year,” Alexander chimed in. “Now we are coming back stronger than ever.”
The highlight of the week came on Sunday afternoon with the famous Giglio Procession. The Giglio (derived from the Italian word for lilies) is a seven-story tower adorned with paper-mâché flowers, a crucifix, and an image of St. Paulinus.
Accompanied by a band playing traditional Tarantella music, the procession enlisted over 100 men from the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish to hoist the massive tower — with the band and Monsignor onboard — and parade it throughout the festival.
“We come together today in the spirit of joy and happiness,” Monsignor Gigantiello said while blessing the Giglio. “We are truly thankful for being here today, to be able to celebrate our feast and the lifting of the Giglio. It has been a rough year and a half, but we are here because of God’s grace.”
He continued: “As we lift our Giglio, we lift it in honor of all of our loved ones that have gone before us. May we continue to celebrate the lifting of the best Giglio in the world and the best feast in all of New York City.”
Throughout the procession, onlookers cheered and danced and sang along to the folk tunes that the band played. Monsignor Gigantiello even got in on the action, clapping his hands and dancing a little jig atop the massive float.
This year’s feast was enhanced even further by Italy’s victory in the UEFA European Championship (the EURO Cup) Sunday afternoon. When the game concluded, the sea of people at Mount Carmel erupted, waving Italian flags and jerseys as the Giglio paraded down the streets of Williamsburg once more.