Whenever I think of Fall I think of two events: my birthday and the centenary tradition I grew up being a part of. They coincide too… This tradition has had many colors in my memories. It has been the dark of rain or the cold grey of wind, that left us all sad. But it has also been painted a warm glow of orange and yellow as the sun settles and the heat in the air nestles against my skin for hours afterward.
Every time I try to explain this, people start looking at me funny, but I haven’t met a person that doesn’t love the sight when they get to witness this event.
Everybody is out on the street, happy and laughing and hard at work. The earth is dry and the grass is old and brown. The fallen leaves abound all over the place and we have to clean them in preparation. Then night falls and the bright yellow glow in the dark reaches as far as the eye can see.
The tradition is that of the people of my hometown getting together on the last weekend of September and the first weekend of October, in order to prepare a religious gathering in honor of the patroness saint of my childhood village.
It is a religious tradition that has come through the centuries (my village is now celebrating its official foundation 500 years ago) and its purpose is none other than to illuminate the path of our patroness saint.
The legend states than in a year of great drought the village, people gathered to pray for water and food, for them and their animals. All people lived of the land, and they were quite desperate, but they couldn’t spend money on wax or oil lamps or anything like that in order to pray. So someone came up with the idea of using the empty shells that the big snails abandon in the fields during the summer time. They gathered all the shells they could find, and they took the old olive oil that wasn’t good for consumption anymore, and they had the old ladies gather their old cotton linens. After a hot afternoon of hard work they were ready. That night, after the sun set, they gathered in prayer and they lit a path in honor of their patroness. The legend states that by the end of the procession the people of the village went home with rain drops falling on their heads.
As I grew up I learned of this story, and many others, and even though I might be skeptical today, I still find them beautiful. The event itself is also an amazing sight, attracting people from a lot of different places that visit in order to witness it.
The mechanics of this are quite simple, with a bit of hard work. First, there are the cotton wicks that must be weaved (I remember doing it by hand during my childhood summers); then, there are the shells that must be cleaned. On the day of the festivity, we close our street (right next to where the procession passes by) and we put little mounds of wet sand on the floor, fences, walls, gates, etc. The sand serves as the bed where the snail shell is placed (so it won’t roll over) with the wick placed inside, its tip dangling out the opening. Then the old olive oil is dripped inside so the wick gets wet and full with it. After all this is done lighting them is all that is left to do.
The preparations these days can take whole weeks. The procession path isn’t a long one, but it is on a steep hill that allows for a wide range of visibility of the lower grounds and fields. This leads to groups of young people joining and building huge structures, with sayings, drawing and pattern, that will be seen from very far ahead when lit at night.
After all is settled, the public lights go out, the religious song starts and the little wicks are lit with candles. On the October celebration, always on a Saturday and usually the one that gathers the bigger crowd, the whole affair can last up to two hours. And sometimes, when there is no wind and the night is warm (like this year) after all is done, some shells are still lit, their wicks still burning in the night.
The regular colour photos were taken with my Recesky TLR (I believe the unfocused effect results from an unaligned lens: not cool) with a Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400 film. The weird coloured ones were taken with my Minolta X-400 and Agfa CT Precisa 100, cross processed.