Monday, August 11, 2008

Dance of the Giglio

Just before the rain swept in yesterday, the Giglio Boys of East Harlem got their handmade, five-ton, five-story tower off the ground. What a thrill to be alongside this massive, bouncing, gilded lily spire hauled on the shoulders of about 100 men and ridden by a brass band, complete with a couple of priests and a guy singing Italian folk songs.

Unlike San Gennaro, this feast was small and cozy. Everyone seemed to know each other. There were few outsiders. It felt a little bit like crashing a family reunion. It also had a more traditional Italian ambiance, as if you might stumble upon this event in a Sicilian village.

Like other southern Italian organizations, the Giglio feast has a hierarchy. There are capos, lieutenants, and paranzas, the lifters. They wore white caps and Old Glory bandannas that came in plastic packages with their blue t-shirts. Under the weight of the Giglio, the paranzas strained and groaned, their faces turning red, the veins in their arms swelling.

The crowd cheered and hustled alongside as the Giglio was shifted and turned, carried up Pleasant Avenue, bounced and shaken. The Statue of Liberty (or "Statua Libbidy" as they called it) waved her torch and did a little dance of her own high atop the Giglio.

For this one weekend, East Harlem's Pleasant Avenue was an Italian neighborhood again, filled with the smells of sweet sausages and parmesan cheese, populated by big cigar-chewing guys who say "fuggedaboudit" as they talk about a "63 Firebird with the plastic still on the seats," and women who proclaim "Maddon, you're gettin' too big" as they lift children into their arms.

After yesterday's festivities, most of them vanished to their quiet Long Island streets and Jersey suburbs, abandoning East Harlem once more to the condo developers.


Anonymous said...

It's amazing there are barely any Italian neighborhoods left in NYC.
Maybe 2 on the outskirts of the boroughs. Hopefully it will stay that way.

Anonymous said...

I was there and I enjoyed the giddiness of this celebration. If you were a tourist in a small town in Italy this would no doubt be a not to be missed event! So easy to miss something in this little forgotten pocket of NYC.

Anonymous said...

That's my Dad Capo Frank Uvenio, in the first picture. He has lived, breathed, and been dedicated to this feast for as long as I can remember, and that's a long time. Continuing long after my Grandfather Salvatore Uvenio passed. He would be so proud. We all should have such passion for something in our lives. Love Ya, JoAnn

Bobby Maida said...

The 2009 Dance of the Giglio Feast is the 10th anniversary of its return to East Harlem. It will be held on Pleasant Avenue between 114th and 116th Streets. Opening Night is Thursday—August 6th with entertainment at 8pm by the Brooklyn Keys . Friday night August 7th there will be entertainment at 8pm by Tony Sal and his Doo Wop Revue. Saturday, August 8th will start with a Procession in honor of Sant’ Antonio at Noon. 7 PM will be the Dancing of the Children’s Giglio followed by DJ entertainment by Megan

Giglio Sunday August 9th will start with a mass for the Paranza at Our Lady of Mount Carmel at 12:30 pm. The Dance of the Giglio di Sant’Antonio will begin at 2:00pm with additional lifts and music by Danny Vecchiano and his Giglio Band, accompanied by Jimmy Alleva, the Giglio Singer. Danny and his band along with Jimmy Alleva have been an integral part of the East Harlem Giglio as well as the Brooklyn Giglio in Williamsburg for many years.

In addition, our Ladies Auxiliary the Giglio Girls will make their appearance with their very own official lift.. Erin Z, Megan Z and Nancee M, Founders/Directors of the Auxiliary say:” Even as little girls, celebrating the Giglio was always a wonderful experience. We watched in awe as our fathers lifted the massive Giglio in honor of St. Anthony. They were overflowing with pride each year as they gathered to “dance the Giglio”. With our society we plan to show our continued support for the Giglio Boys. Our main goal is to follow in the footsteps of our fathers and grandfathers, by helping to keep this tradition alive. Our society is a tribute to them. We hope to make the Giglio Boys of East Harlem just as proud as they have made us through the years.”

Food vendors will be available offering beverages, sausage and peppers, zeppole, steak, shish kabob, seafood and other food items. In addition, Souvenir Tshirts will also be sold (get there early for the shirts go fast). Rides and Games of Chance will also be available for everyone’s enjoyment.

Have you wanted to eat at Rao’s ??? ( ) and can’t get a reservation? Here is your chance. The famous restaurant…a long time Giglio supporter will provide Dinner for 4 on Tuesday September 22, 2009 to the lucky winner of The Giglio Society’s Annual Raffle. Tickets are $10 each. The drawing will be held on Giglio Sunday nite. Winner does not have to be present. All proceeds from the Raffle go directly towards the continuation of the Giglio tradition.

Regarding updates on events sponsored by The Giglio Society of East Harlem go to For additional feast info call Bob Maida (914) 787 0692 or Email

Anonymous said...

Pleasant Avenue and the adjoining Streets are Italian Harlem. Someone here in this thread wrote that many of the people attending the feast will go to their suburban homes. But fact is ,Italian People live in Italian Harlem as they have for years. Orbits , Rao's , Patsy's Pizza , The Barber Shop ,are all business in Italian Harlem , Italian owned and run. Besides this feast there is the Stickball Convention each year, where Father and Sons (and Grandfathers) all play. This is a PROUD Italian Neighborhood. And it's not just once a year, it's ALL year. Another person in this thread wrote that "there are barely any Italian neighborhoods left in NYC" , which is one of the most ignorant comments I have read anywhere. I guess the person who wrote that has not been to Arthur Avenue, or Pelham in the Bronx, or Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Greenpoing, Carrol Gardens, Gravesend in Brooklyn, or Howard Beach and Ozone Park in Queens, or Staten Island !! Should I get into all the Italian Suburban neighborhoods now, including in Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania ? All ITALIAN Neighborhoods alive and VERY WELL.
FORZA ITALIA. come leave your e mail address on mailing list at if you would like.

Anonymous said...

For Joanne P: I went to school with a Frank Uvenio. He would be 45 or 46 now, in New Milford, NJ. I lost track of him and was wondering if you're related. I know he has a sister named Donna. I can't find him on FB and there was a rumor he had passed away. I can be reached at Please let me know if you are related. He would want to hear from me! Graci!