Befana

The Befana effigy in Verona

So we are learning about all sorts of new traditions and celebrations over here. Our latest is celebrated on the epiphany – 6 January. According to tradition, an old woman called Befana delivers gifts to children on Epiphany eve. She is depicted as travelling by broomstick, and it is for Befana that children leave out stockings, instead of Santa Claus.

Wikipedia tells a few versions of the story, one being that Befana was an old woman who was visited by the three wise men on their way to see the baby Jesus. She declined when they asked if she wanted to join them, but later had a change of heart. She gathered together the toys of her child who had died, loaded up her donkey and set off after them. She never found the baby Jesus, so every year instead visits the children of Italy. 

befana in Verona

And in Verona, as a way of saying ‘thanks for the snacks’, they burn an effigy of her. Or more accurately, the fire represents the previous year with the new year born from the ashes. The photo at the top is of the Befana effigy set up in Piazza Bra, the one above and below are of her on fire. This is an ancient tradition and it did feel very pagan.

befana1

The bonfire that takes place in Verona and other towns around the Veneto represent the closing of the Christmas season and the opening of Carnevale. The direction that the wind blows the smoke is meant to represent the weather for the coming year. Garbin, a wind from the South-West suggests rain, essential for crops. Furlan, from the North-East brings dry weather meaning dry soil and scarcity. The location of bonfires and the source for those fun wind facts here.

 

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2 thoughts on “Befana

  1. I had never heard of this tradition before, very interesting! Although, I think effigy burning would have freaked me out a bit. Thank you for sharing!

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