NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A beloved tradition dating back to 1903 in Brooklyn could end this year, because of a desperate need for volunteers.
For more than a century, it has been an eye-popping and beloved tradition like no other — the lifting of the “Giglio,” an enormous 80-foot, four-ton tower that is marched through the streets of Williamsburg, on the strength and backs of more than 100 men.
It happens every July as part of a huge Catholic festival honoring Italian Saint Paulinas of Nola, who is said to have offered his life to save the lives of others, and in return was greeted with lilies — giglio in Italian.
But this year, the sacred spectacle has an unusual need.
“We need lifters,” Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello told CBS2’s Scott Rapoport on Thursday.
Gigantiello of Williamsburg’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel church, which runs the festival and the hoisting of the Giglio, said this year there simply aren’t enough people to do the heavy lift and carry the icon.
He said for the first time in the church’s history, it has been forced to actively recruit volunteers.
“We need to make sure that this tradition continues,” Gigantiello said.
In past years, the clamor to carry the Giglio was so great, many volunteers had to be turned away. But alas, Gigantiello said the times are changing in Brooklyn.
Through gentrification — or yuppie-a-zation, as some call it — the number of traditional Italian families in the area is dwindling, creating a dearth of able-bodied strongmen and a changing culture.
“We have a lot of hipsters in this neighborhood, that have come into this neighborhood, and we want to cater to them, but we want to keep our traditions also,” Gigantiello said.
With 180 people needed to carry the Giglio for the duration of the festival, only 120 have committed so far, so the recruiting process remains in full swing.
“We are recruiting in Italian organizations, in gyms, anywhere you have strong guys to come and lift,” Gigantiello said.
As they try to preserve a charming and cherished part of their their history.
This year’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Giglio Feast will run from July 10-21.