Lezzeno, lighting up the lakeshore!
As part of a long-standing tradition, Lezzeno celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph every year on March 19th. It is also the occasion of one of the oldest customs in our town, the Palio del Falò, where each hamlet lights bonfires on the lakeshore on the eve of St. Joseph’s.
The tradition is ancient, that much is certain, although no one can say for sure how it began. There are clues in the local legends and lore passed down by historians, storytellers and generations of grandparents, with three prevailing theories as to the origins of this popular celebration.
According to one ancient narrative, the bonfires began as a commemoration of the battle between Como and Milan that took place between 1118 and 1127. As the town of Lezzeno sided with Milan in this brutal battle, the people of Como exacted their revenge by burning the village to the ground – and the Lezzenesi have never forgotten that terrible night.
Another possible theory points to an ancient pagan ritual from the Roman era, when the locals marked the arrival of spring with a fiery purification ceremony. They built huge bonfires with objects that were no longer of use along with the weeds, thorns and vines that threatened their crops. These ritual fires were meant to appease the gods and usher in a bountiful harvest.
The final, and perhaps most sensational, theory harks back to the days women were burned at the stake as witches. Legend has it that Lezzeno’s single ladies were so smitten by the young men from the village of Lenno that they sailed across the lake on a romantic expedition. Rejected for their less than pleasing appearance by the Lennesi, the girls returned to their village disheartened and angry. In hopes of improving their lot, they enlisted the local ‘streghe’ to instruct them in the dark art of seduction. Although this is probably more folklore than fact, we know from history that the city of Como burned 300 women at the stake as witches in 1416, a quarter of whom are believed to have come from Lezzeno.
Every year, you can admire this picturesque spectacle from the lake, with bonfires burning along five miles of Lezzeno’s shoreline as the locals revere their colorful past and commemorate a legend full of mystery.