Perhaps lesser known than the Giglio festival in Williamsburg, the East Harlem Giglio dates back to about 1900, when immigrants from Southern Italy and Sicily settled throughout this neighborhood, all along the area around Pleasant Avenue.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Italians fled Harlem--and took their Giglio with them. From 1971 until 2000, no Giglio danced in Manhattan.
I've been lurking around the neighborhood lately and came upon the Giglio Boys prepping for their annual Dance of the Giglio. Men and boys sawed and hammered wood, constructing a tall tower that rivaled the construction cranes nearby. "Giglio" is Italian for "lily," and it's a 5-story, 5-ton tower covered in a papier-mache face decorated with statues of saints and angels. The East Harlem Giglio is topped with a Statue of Liberty.
When I returned to Pleasant Avenue last week, the Giglio was complete. I found it standing by itself, without a fence or man to guard it from vandals. But I guess people around there know not to mess with the Italians.
This year, the festivities run from now until Sunday, when the official "dance" begins at 2:00 in the afternoon. See what that's all about in this film clip from 1971. If that won't get you to go, maybe this will: Last year, they raffled off tickets to nearby restaurant Rao's, probably the single most impossible place to get a table. In fact, one of the only ways to get in is to win tickets. Maybe the Giglio boys will give you a chance to try your luck again.
Until then, for a nostalgic tour of old East Harlem and Giglios from days past, take a look at these historic photos.
For more pics of this year's Giglio, click here