The holiday season is a special time to take some rest from our fast-paced everyday lives and to celebrate with our loved ones but, as much as we enjoy the Christmas atmosphere and New Year’s Eve excitement, it always seems to end too soon.
Well, not in Italy. From ancient pagan rites, linked to fertility and harvest, to the Catholic tradition and the inquisition, the feast of the Epiphany is marked in the Italian calendar as the season’s grand finale.
Therefore, it’s commemorated every year by a number of initiatives organized throughout the Country, which may be very different from one region to the other. Most of them, though, share the symbolism of burning fires representing renascence, and the well-known local taste for food and wine.
In northern Italy, popular events are held in major cities like Bologna or Venice as well as in small towns.
For example in Faenza, Emilia Romagna region, the effigy of an old woman – the Befana, a personification of the bygone year – is brought to the main square on a cart drawn by oxen, to be burned and bid farewell with a toast of the local mulled wine. Fire and wine are also featured in an ancient ritual performed on the night of January 5 in the province of Treviso, Veneto region, where the harvest trend of the New Year is predicted according to the direction of the flames.
While Venice celebrates the Epiphany with a typical boat race along the Canal Grande, between two teams of rowers dressed up like the Befana or Santa Claus, Verona hosts a parade of vintage cars and motorcycles, carrying gifts to be donated to local charities.
In Lombardy region, the traditional Christmas stockings – which in Italy are usually a Befana’s prerogative - hung from the windows and balconies, waiting for the old woman to fill them with sweets or coal, depending on the children’s behavior.
Talking of stockings, the small town of Santa Maria a Monte in Tuscany is home of the world’s longest one, 260 meters, filled with thousands of colourful balloons to be popped at the end of the celebration.
Another Epiphany tradition is represented by live performances inspired either by the religious or the pagan origin of the festivity. In Florence and Rome - but also in many towns of Campania region, which is famous for hosting spectacular living nativity scenes - the journey of the Three Wise Men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus is staged on January 6 in the street of the historic city center.
While inquisition trials and rituals against witchcraft are re-enacted in the province of Trento, with the participation of over 100 characters wearing medieval clothing, more cheerful performances take place in Urbania, Marche region, or Altamura in Apulia, where the Befana flies down the town’s bell tower, distributing candies and gifts to the children. And to all those who wish the holiday season to last longer, she offers one more occasion to celebrate with family and friends.