Sunset Hills Elementary School recently launched the sale of lambatha bags for the annual Light up the Bayou event at Craig Park's Spring Bayou, which takes place on Christmas Eve.
Lambatha bags contain sand and a candle. After lighting the candle, the bag radiates a stunning glow.
The bags are personalized by the buyer, whether it's a "happy holidays" message or a marriage proposal.
Because of Tarpon Springs' large Greek community, the Greek word "lambatha" was substituted for "luminary" when the tradition began more than 25 years ago.
The event was established after a group of Sunset Hills students developed a project to raise money for the Pinellas County Schools Economics Fair. As a form of advertisement, the group sold bags to local businesses and proposed their plan to light up the bayou.
Once the idea was approved by the school principal, mayor, city manager and fire department, the project was set in motion.
On Christmas Eve in 1986, the bags were placed along Spring Bayou and the candles were lit at dusk. The city experienced its first lambatha display.
City officials were so impressed with the outcome, it became an annual event and even made its way onto the city calendar. Not to mention, the original project won second place at the Economics Fair that first year.
The event has turned into quite the production, according to Sunset Hills staff members. From the beginning stages, which launch around 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve to starting the cleanup at 4 a.m. on Christmas Day.
When the process begins, an assembly line of parents, teachers and kids forms along the bayou, from filling the bags with sand to adding a candle and then lining the bayou.
Composed of PTA members, parents, kids and community members, the group sold about 2800 bags last year.
The monies raised are put back into Sunset Hills Elementary School, according to organizers.
Elisha Bowman is the school's data management technician and is also organizing the lambatha display this year. Although she has been a part of the staff family for about seven years, this will mark her first as the head of this particular event.
"It's very different," Bowman said. "But I like it because I get to see the behind the scenes stuff."
This year, lambatha bags are $2 each and can be purchased at a number of Tarpon Springs locations:
- Tarpon Springs Public Library
- Tarpon Springs Police Department
- Nick's Pizza and Seafood
- Mama's Greek Cuisine
- Given with Love
- Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce
Tarpon Springs Commissioner Townsend Tarapani is a native of Tarpon and experienced the lambatha display firsthand as a student at Sunset Hills. He says the celebration is a personal favorite.
"I think the lambathas help us realize how special where we live is and the surrounding in which the city is set," Tarapani said.
Bowman believes that the event is a community builder and for a city like Tarpon Springs, it's the perfect holiday excursion.
Families incorporate a glimpse of the bayou into their celebratory rituals and stroll along the bayou before heading home for a long winter's nap.
"It's just one more thing to bring this community closer together," Bowman said.
Volunteers are needed on Christmas Eve for the lambatha lighting and on Christmas day for the cleanup. Organizers encourage community members to stop by any time on either day to lend a hand.
A note from Sunset Hills: "Any amount of time will be a great benefit to the project!"