In an open letter, Reverend Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of OLMC, said he and the feast’s executive committee reached the “painful decision” after recognizing that the safety of parishioners is their top priority.
He noted that it has been over 75 years since the lifting of the Giglio was called off.
“We are in unprecedented and uncertain times as we were back then,” Gigantiello wrote. “We await word from the city on what we may plan in the future and will revisit our options close to the fall.”
The annual celebration, which dates back to 1903, spans 12 days and has been a century-long tradition in Williamsburg’s Italian-American community. The festival is highlighted by the hoisting of the Giglio, a four-ton, five-story tower decorated with lilies and religious imagery.
During the event, thousands of spectators watch as hundreds of lifters carry the structure on their shoulders and sway it back and forth at the direction of a “Capo,” who leads the festivities.
The celebration typically includes an opening night mass and candlelight procession, Old Timers Day and a Kids Giglio Lift.
According to organizers, the tradition of the Giglio began in 410 A.D. in Nola, Italy. As the story goes, North African pirates invaded the town and kidnapped young boys. Bishop Paolino, southern Italy’s patron saint, was moved to compassion and decided to offer himself in exchange for the boys.
Word of the bishop’s sacrifice reached the sultan, who negotiated for Paolino’s freedom. When he returned to Nola by ship, the town greeted him with lilies, a symbol of love and puity. The word “giglio” is Italian for lily.
Throughout the centuries, farmers, butchers, blacksmiths and other residents produced their own displays of lilies, which became a tradition. Italian immigrants brought the celebration to Williamsburg in the early 20th century.
In his letter, Gigantiello noted that not only is the feast cancelled, but the parish is facing another crisis. Unlike other parishes that rely on weekly offertory, their collections “do not come close” to sustaining the parish, he wrote.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel mainly depends on the proceeds from the feast to keep the parish running for the year.
“Cancellation of the feast is a financial burden we cannot stand to bear,” Gigantiello said.
He asked parishioners and community members to support the parish by making a gift to the Century Board and to participate in raffles. The money raised will be allocated to sustain the parish.
Gigantiello added that they also plan to celebrate Feast Day on July 16 “in some very special way.”
“The reopening of our church will be painfully slow,” he wrote. “However, I guarantee the next time we lift the Giglio it will touch the sky higher than it ever has before.”