Festa dei Lampioni, “The festival of lanterns” is celebrated on June 21 and 22 in Calimera, a small town about 20 km south of Lecce. The festival has been transferred into Christian religion, associated to the celebrations for San Luigi (Saint Louis), but its origins date back to the pagan celebrations of summer solstice. In ancient civilizations, particularly in agrarian societies, the change of seasons was of tremendous importance and it was often celebrated with festivals of fire. The summer solstice in Calimera is not as exception: big lanterns were lit up with fire and used to adorn the streets.
Calimera is one of the 12 towns of Grecia Salentina, where people speak a Greek dialect of ancient origins. Many cultural phenomena came from Greece together with the language and one of them is this festival: pictures of lanterns similar to those you can see in Calimera were discovered in prehistoric caves of Cappadocia, Greece.
Materials used to make the lanterns have changed during the years but in the last century they have been made with swamp reeds, iron wires and twines, a glue made with flour and water, colorful paper, and candles to lit up the lanterns. From the 1950s flour and water have been replaced with chemical glue and lampioni are lit up with electricity instead of candles.
The festival has gradually become a sort of contest between the young people in Calimera: every group would work on its lanterns in secret, and compete with others groups in hanging the best lanterns on June 21. The tradition of this festival had been abandoned in the 1970s and, after a break of 15 years it was resumed at the end of the 1980s by Circolo Ghetonia, a local cultural association.
Today 4 local associations take part to the organization of the festival and make Lampioni of different dimensions, from 40-centimeter width up to 6-meter width. Also their shapes vary a lot, from simple stars to ships, monuments and whatever the fantasy of local masters create. In Calimera during the whole year you and your children can participate to workshops where you can try to make your own lampione. If you pass by Calimera on June 16 in daytime, you will be very welcome in helping to hang lampioni above the streets.
Concerts and events take place during the 2 days of the festival, and many stands with local crafts, food and wine will help you go deeper into salentine culture.