Celebrating 21st birthday at Giglio Feast

Enrico Saviano of Middle Village honors heritage and ancestors

While many 21-year-olds might spend their birthday hungover, Middle Village resident Enrico “Eddie” Saviano spent his day immersed in family tradition.

The Saviano family

As the son of Italian-American parents, Saviano saves the date each July to partake in Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Giglio Feast, a 135-year Brooklyn tradition.

Along with his father, Anthony, and cousin, Frank Armano, Saviano serves as a “lifter” at the feast, meaning he is one of the hundreds of men who helps carry the 82-foot Giglio structure and a boat— “La Barca—along North 8th Street and Union Avenue.

Thousands of people from all walks of life come together at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church to celebrate this tradition.

In fact, police say that 114,000 people came out to the July 10 celebration, which is Saviano’s birthday.

“A lot of people from the neighborhood in Williamsburg came from Nola in Italy. The story goes that Turks had invaded the town and they took back an old widow’s only son. So, the bishop of the town, San Paolino, went to the Turk in Africa and said, ‘I’ll exchange my life for his, so he can go back and help his mother,’” Saviano said.

Enrico Saviano, Enrico Saviano, Frank Armano, and Anthony Saviano.

The Giglio with San Paolino on top and the boat with the Turks on it represents this tale.

Saviano’s father’s family came to Brooklyn from Naples, and his mother, Carmela, is of Sicilian ancestry.

“When Eddie was born, Anthony didn’t do the lifting as much, but then they started the children’s Giglio and he put his son right into it,” Carmela Saviano said.

“I’ve been with Anthony since I’m 14 years old, so I’ve watched him do it, and now I’m watching my son do it, so it’s really like a coming of age thing,” she continued. “It makes me cry seeing them under that structure each year.”

Eddie Saviano explained that the Giglio lift is not just something that anyone could do—the tradition is incredibly hard on the body.

“It’s heavier than you think and it’s tough, especially when the ground is uneven,” he explained. “Your shoulders are hurting you for a couple of days, and there are marks and bruises on your shoulders afterwards.”

The family added that each man under the Giglio and boat holds about 150-to-200 pounds, due to the heavy materials the structures are made of, as well as the speakers, clergy, and band who stand on top of the float.

Although only men perform the official Giglio lifts, children ages five and up of any gender can participate in the children’s Giglio, as shown by Saviano’s younger sister, Nancy.

Saviano’s grandfather, also named Enrico, was very involved in the tradition, passing it on through the generations.

“We do it for the sake of tradition,” Saviano said. “After every lift, my dad and my cousins grab a beer for my grandfather because he did this for many years, so I’m excited to carry on that tradition as well in honor of him.”