If December 23 is "only" Christmas Eve for you, then you are certainly not a Lanciano!
For three centuries, in fact, for every self-respecting Lanciano, December 23 has been one of the most important days of the year, one dedicated to the Squilla tradition of love, peace and reconciliation. Actually, not all families in Frentano start celebrating Christmas two days before, but for the most traditionalists, the day of the Squilla is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt of all holidays. Not only because it is a unique rite celebrated only in Lanciano, but also because it carries with it a trail of centuries-old traditions and customs!
A celebration for the whole town
Every year, as the evening of Dec. 23 dawns, the town begins to prepare for a big event: the stores close and the streets fill with smiling people waiting until 6 p.m. to exchange greetings. And lo and behold, at the stroke of the hour, the first chimes of the bell, called precisely Squilla, placed on the civic tower are heard. The bell rings at length, accompanying the faithful as they make their way to the Church of the Iconicella, about 3 kilometers away from the historic center, where they attend a brief religious ceremony that gives the townspeople an opportunity to come together as one big family.
A celebration for the family
And it is precisely the family that is the focus of the Squilla's second moment: immediately after the service at the Iconicella, everyone takes their way home. 7 p.m. arrives, and the unmistakable ringing of the Squilla is joined by the solemn pealing of all the churches. It is a time to dedicate ourselves to loved ones, to renew the love that binds us together, and to forgive misunderstandings through the moving tradition of kissing the hand to the oldest person in the family! Amid well wishes and some emotion, the time also comes to exchange Christmas gifts, two days early. At that point the dinner begins, consisting of meat and, for the most faithful, lamb heads. In homes that still have them, the fireplace is lit so that the head of the family can place on the hearth the teakettle that will last until Christmas Day.
How the tradition was born
The characteristic custom of the Squilla traces its origins to a penitential pilgrimage in 1607, when Paolo Tasso, the city's bishop, known for his piety and devotion, went barefoot on the evening of Dec. 23 to the Church of the Iconicella. His walk was accompanied by the chiming of the Squilla and ended with a pastoral embrace with his faithful.
A dialect poem was written in honor of this tradition , which has become well known in and around Lanciano:
La Squije di Natale dure n'ora / eppure quanta bbene ti sumente! / Tè na vucetta fine, e gna li sente / anche lu lancianese che sta fore! / Ti vùsciche di botte entr'a lu core / nu monne ch'à passate, entr'à la mente / ti squaije nu penzere malamente / nche nu ndu-lin-da-li che sa d'amore. / And da na campanelle chiù cumune / yet ti rifà gne nu quatrale, / ti fa pregà di core,'n ginucchiune. / Ugne matine sone ma nen vale / la voce de lu ciele, pé ugnune, / chi sa pecché! ... le té sole at Christmas.
The Christmas ring lasts an hour, yet how well it sows! It holds a fine little kiss, and even the far-away lancer hears it! Suddenly a world that is past enters your heart, And in your mind it melts an evil thought With a peal that tastes of love. It comes from a common bell, yet it remakes you like a child, makes you pray heartily on your knees. Every morning it rings but is not worth the voice of heaven, which for everyone, who knows why, has it only at Christmas.
To make travel arrangements
Discover places and related research