“Great, very great is the passion for the festivities that the population keeps, preserves and perpetuates from generation to generation, so that the simple mention of people’s playful appointments with the recurrences and saints of the annual cycle is enough to outline the folklore representation of this coastal city.
Just the wait and attraction of the festivity are a clear proof of the need to escape from the real, from isolation, from the hardness and tiredness of living that people have, to establish new relationships that get out of everyday life, to escape from boredom, to forget the stress of duties, deadlines and responsibilities.
The festivity, with its lights, noises, occasions and shows, is a powerful sedative of natural controls, it is an excitement that stimulates curiosity, encourages the taste of adventure and the desire to try one’s luck and to surrender to hedonism; the search for such escapes, which people here can’t give up, is an aspect of their being, but also a chapter of the heritage of their civilization.
The dates in which that spirit of life and transgression is expressed are spread like a leopard spot along the whole calendar.
At New Year’s Eve, the old year in the form of a puppet,
dressed as a gentleman of good society of the past, is damned to the fire along with the suitcase of the past days. The flames are also set to the “focareddhre” on the first day of Carnival, which coincides with S. Antonio te lu porcu (of the pig), to propitiate the hope of new crops.
When Carnival dies, which once was expressed in articles that made Gallipoli worth the second place after Putignano in the ranking of Puglia centres sensitive to masked festivals and to the parades floats, there is great mourning for the local mask, lu Titoru, which is the parody of the ordinary man, of every day, of every street, while, at the end of Lent, fire is set to the “caremme”, the “malladrone”’s (bad thief)) nieces, who were the shrews devoted to abstinence and friends of renunciations that, until the day of the pyre, have been hanging on strings stretching from end to end of the alleys of the old town which, during the Passion week, participates with the intensity of a Spanish city to the penitential rites that have their high point in the oratories’ and their brotherhoods’ processions.
Once Easter has passed, just the memories remain of the processions that on January 19 and February 5 brought the silver eighteenth-century busts of the protectors Sebastiano and Agata, decked with flowers and glowing with lights, from the Cathedral around the winding meanders of its ancient maze of streets.
Summer is coming, so the city prepares to receive the guests, those who return to spend their holiday and the new ones. For the season, the city lives its most euphoric and animated moment: there are so many calls to entertainment, from the baths along the beach stretching from the hotels to S. Giovanni, to the opportunities and initiatives that are strictly linked to the sea, like the cuccagna (maypole) on the water, which marks the culmination of S. Cristina festivity (24th July) or like the shows, within the kermess of the provincial festivals and the staging of social nights.
In September, the foreigners, but not the beautiful days, leave the city, which becomes the obligatory destination for Sunday walks also for the inhabitants of the nearby centres. You can enjoy the last summer warmth, have lunch, go from one side to the other side of corso Roma or, if you want to do more than four steps, go to the waterfront Lungomare Galilei, a ‘must’ to enjoy the spectacle of the practice of the different ways of fishing, the “fiacca” that, in full moon nights, turns the still waters into a firmament of lamparas, each of which sails slowly to allow the first shot to catch the prey, dazzled and spear shot in the same way used by hunters to fill their hunting bags.
In Gallipoli, Christmas arrives before the canonical time of Advent, on 15 October, in S. Teresa’s, when an orchestra goes around the desert streets of the old town even before sunrise, performing a delicate pastoral; its trembling, exhausted musicality characterizes all other pre-sunrise performances of that dirge, in honour of the other devotions of the city piousness, for S. Cecilia on 22 November, for S. Andrea 8 days later, for the Immacolata on 8 December and, 5 days later, for S. Lucia.
From the church services to the traditions of music performed for the art’s sake, Christmas rites end up penetrating even in the kitchens, where devotion requires to break the fast only with evening meatless meals, to prepare for the table of the big day the dishes of traditional courses, to set up tureens of ‘pittule’ with tomato, cabbage, slices of cuttlefish and squids, ‘minoscia’, to manage with the most various gravies, among which the ‘mboti’ (meat rolls), and to think about royal pastry, almond milk, ricotta, cinnamon, honey, to make up those desserts without which, and not only for the children, it isn’t Christmas in Gallipoli.
[A.Costantini – M. Paone, “Schizzi e linee di folklore della terra e del mare” da Guida di Gallipoli – La città il territorio l’ambiente, pag. 82, Congedo Editore, Galatina, 1992 - translated by: Rocco Merenda]