The Giglio Society of East Harlem is a devoted group of individuals who have dedicated their lives to honor Sant’ Antonio. Their love and devotion is on display each year during the Annual Italian Festival held in East Harlem, New York. They honor their Patron saint in very much the same fashion as their ancestry did and still do annually today in Brusciano by building a Giglio and dancing it in the streets of Manhattan, N.Y.
For those unfamilar with the Giglio (pronounced JEEL-YO) – it is a 75 to 85 foot tall wooden structure with a papier-mâché face adorned with beloved saints and colorful flowers. Most prominent of the flowers is the Lily, which is called a Giglio in Italian – hence the name of the structure. Giglio’s are built in honor of a town’s patron saint and carried on the shoulders of approximately 120 men in a ritual that dates back to 409AD in the town of Nola Italy. Today, Giglio feasts are found throughout a number of towns in the surrounding area of Naples Italy. Each town varies the tradition to meet the town’s tradition. In Brusciano, six Giglio’s are built in honor of Sant’ Antonio and danced during the August time frame each year.
On the platform just above the base of the Giglio sits a multi-piece band along with several singers. The music is an integral part of the dancing of the Giglio as it inspires the lifters (also known as the ‘Paranza’ in Italian) to take on the burdening weight of the Giglio and band and dance it in harmony to the music being played.The face of the Giglio is one of the crucial components of each Giglio, each made from scratch each year to the specification of the Maestro di Festa (or Master of Ceremonies) in Italy. Although the face changes yearly, one consistent fact remains and that it the town’s patron saint can be found some where on the face and most likely at the very top.