The tradition dates back 1,600 years ago to Nola, Italy, when Saint San Paolino offered himself to free children taken into slavery and was then later released. Overjoyed by Paolino’s safe return, Nola’s residents greeted him by carrying lilies, which represents love and purity.
Jamie Gagliardotto, former Queen of Little Italy, said she is originally from Naples, Italy, and the feast is all about tradition.
“I have been coming here for years helping my stepfather with his pastry business,” said Gagliardotto. “But, the most important part of this 12-day feast is the lifting of the Giglio, an 80-foot-tall and three-ton statue honoring Saint San Paolino, which took place this past Sunday. This is a huge part of the Italian tradition.”
Salvatore Malcaus, feast vendor of Piccola Casa Dolce and Gagliardotto’s step-father, said his favorite part of the feast is the food, dancing in the streets and Italian old-world traditions. Some of his delectable desserts include cannolis, napoleon pastries and torrone nougat candy.
“The downside of this year’s feast is that most of the venders, myself included, are 20 percent down in sales this year due to the economic slowdown,” he said. “Last year was a little off too, but I love being here in Brooklyn celebrating traditions with everyone.”
Williamsburg residents Steve and Katie Burns said they have been going to the feast for years, and Williamsburg is a neighborhood about its people.
“We love the rides, games, especially the dart game where I just won a stuffed banana, and the Italian food,” said Steve Burns. “Williamsburg is an unchanged neighborhood with great people.”
Kids and adults played games, went on the giant Ferris wheel, and stuffed themselves with Italian sausage and peppers, calzones, zeppoles, fried seafood, clams and braciole. Some of the most popular games at the feast are the dart game, the basketball throw, the duck pond and the water balloon game, where kids won stuffed animals, big bouncing balls and live goldfish.
Brooklyn resident Thomas Sutton, who is in charge of the basketball throw at the feast, said people love to play his game, but he noticed they don’t always want to spend the $5 per game. But, regardless he loves being a part of the celebration.
“I love when the lift is done and everyone sings and dances in the streets here in Williamsburg,” said Sutton. “I have been here for the last two years and it’s great.”
The first lift of Giglio took place on Sunday, June 8, the 2nd night lift was on Wednesday, July 11, and the last event will be this Monday, June 16, which will be the last day of the feast with a celebration of masses honoring Our Lady of Mount Carmel running until 10 p.m. The feast has been running since July 5.