We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Panevin and La Befana

Today, January 5, is Epiphany Eve. It's an important day for observing some old Italian traditions- Panevin also known as Pirola Parola, and La Befana.

Panevin is a  huge bonfire lit up on the night of January 5, in celebration of the winter solstice. On the top of the bonfire is a figure of an old woman, called Vecia or "old lady". She is supposedly guilty all the bad things that have happened during the past year, and because of that she is burned.

While the bonfire is burning, people near the fire read the smoke and sparks of flames as a prediction of the coming year's harvest. If the smoke and sparks are going to the south and west directions, this means a good harvest. Obviously, smoke going in the opposite directions, the north and east, bring a bad harvest.

Tonight, in areas around Venice, such as Jesolo and Malamocco on the Lido, the Panevin will take place.

(Photos courtesy VeneziaToday)

La Befana, derived from the word epifania, Italian for Epipany, is an Italian children's tradition based on an old legend.  There was an old widow, back in the time of the birth of Jesus, who is known for sweeping, cleaning and baking. One night she notices a bright light in the sky, and later, a group of wise men leading a caravan stop at her house. They invite her to join them on their journey to Bethlehem, but she declines their invitation. Later, she decides she should catch up with them, because she also wanted to visit the special child the wise men were headed to.  She places some baked goods in a bag as a gift for the child, grabbed her broom, and went off after the wise men.  Not long after, she got lost. Angels appearing from this bright light, the magic star, caused la Befana's broom to fly, sending her off into the night looking for Baby Jesus. La Befana still searches the night sky every January 5, dropping in at all the homes of children to see if they might be the child she is looking for, and leaves a gift for any good child.

All over Italy tonight, stockings will be hung for La Befana to fill with candies.  There is a traditional poem for La Befana children sing :

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romano
Viva, viva, la Befana!


The befana comes at night with her shoes all tattered and torn, she comes dressed in the Roman way, 
Long life to the Befana!

Tomorrow, here in Venice, La Befana is celebrated with a regatta down the Grand Canal, from Palazzo Bilbo  at San Toma to the Rialto Bridge. The race is sponsored by the Canotierri Bucintoro, one of the rowing clubs of Venice. Five of the club's male members over 55 yrs old dress up in La Befana costumes and row down the Grand Canal.  Hot chocolate and vin brule are served by the rowing club on the banks of Fondamenta del Vin. Tomorrow around 10:30 events will begin at Rialto, the race starting at 11. 

Per usual, I will be at my post near the traghetto stop at San Silvestro tomorrow morning, watching the Befana regatta. See you there!


Susan said...

Reminds me of the Santa Fe NM event every September of burning Zozobra, old man gloom. I think that started in the 1920's. But the fiesta surrounding it has been going on since the 1700's. Everyone gets together and they burn a giant effigy, and with it all their doom and gloom. Then you can start afresh. Pretty fun, I'd love to be in Venice for this bonfire!

karen said...

Susan- this fire isn't actually in the city of Venice, you have to go outside the area to find one- for example Jesolo or Padova. Too dangerous here in the city to have any bonfires!

Dianne said...

This reminds me of an event heralding the harvest in Luxembourg called the Bourg Brennan (sp?). It consisted of a large structure to be burned on the night of the festival. The most recently married couple were the ones to light it -- but neighboring towns would try to burn it ahead of the festival so young men stayed out all night to guard their town's/village's structure. The local volunteer fire fighters would have a booth selling brats, pork cutlets, and other food and all the neighbors would go up the hill to see the bonfire. We lived in a valley so from the side of the hill one could see all the other bonfires. It was great fun!

These kinds of festivals are the bonus of living in a different country and experiencing a different culture. Things that the locals perhaps take for granted, we ex-pats see as fascinating fun.

Enjoy your fritelle by the way!