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The Giglio Society of East Harlem is a group of men who have dedicated their lives to honor Sant' Antonio, their beloved saint. 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.
As explained, the origins of the Giglio Society of East Harlem trace their heritage back to the town of Brusciano, Italy approximately 20 miles outside of Naples. Here an Annual Feast called the Dance of the Giglio takes place yearly in honor of Sant' Antonio. The Feast originally began back in the 1880's when Zi Cecca DeFalco prayed to Sant' Antonio to help cure his deathly ill child.
In exchange for this cure, Zi Cecca vowed to honor Sant' Antonio in the same manner the town's people of Nola Italy, a nearby town honor San Paolino di Nola, by constructing Gigli in honor of Sant' Antonio and dancing them in the streets of Brusciano. Zi Cecca's prayers were answered and the dancing of the Giglio in Brusciano was born. It continues today where 6 Gigli are built and danced on the shoulders of hundreds of men yearly during the month of August.
Around the turn of the 1900's, Italian immigrants left Italy in search of a better life for their families. During this time, Southern Italy was a very desperate place holding little to no promise of a bright future for the many starving and hungry families. Many had no other choice but to pack up their belonging and take a chance on moving to the promise of the 'New World' - America!
Many families from the town of Brusciano, Italy migrated to East Harlem, NY to start new with other families and friends that came before them. Although these immigrants brought little with them on their 30-day long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in the tight confines of the boat. What they did carry with them where their beloved traditions. For the people of Brusciano, this included their yearly Dance of the Giglio festival in honor of Sant' Antonio.
It was around this time that the Italian immigrants of East 106th Street in East Harlem, decided to initiate their beloved tradition by building a Giglio and dancing it in the 'New World'. The first Giglio Feast on 106th street in East Harlem started approximately 1908. Giocchino Vivolo is credited for being the first Capo Paranza on 106th Street. He along with his brother Rocco Vivolo were members of the Bruscianese Society and were influential in bringing this tradition to East Harlem from Brusciano, Italy. The Festival on 106th Street grew for many years becoming one of the largest street fairs in America and remained that way until 1955. Then in 1957, the festival moved a few blocks uptown to 108th Street where the Dance of the Giglio continued until 1971.
After a 29 year hiatus, the Dance of the Giglio returned to East Harlem in 2000 as a Cooperative Feast with the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel that resides on 115th Street between 1st Avenue and Pleasant Avenue. The Festival enjoyed several great years dancing the Giglio during the Annual Feast of the Our Lady of Mt Carmel festival that takes place each year on July 16th, the feast date of the Madonna.
For the 2006 feast, it was decided to hold the Dance of the Giglio Festival separate from the Annual Our Lady of Mt Carmel feast. The decision to move the Dancing of the Giglio dates made absolute sense in order to relieve the strain on the Giglio community. This strain was caused yearly by the coinciding Giglio Feasts held in East Harlem and Williamsburg Brooklyn dancing their Giglio on the same weekend each year that fell around the July 16th Feast Date of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Giglio is now danced in East Harlem on the second Sunday in August.