Epiphany takes all the holidays away. January 6 is the day that brings the curtain down on Christmas celebrations and each Italian region has its own customs and traditions related to the arrival of the Befana. From north to south, the elderly lady is not only a symbol of the closing of the Christmas period, but also of rebirth and for this reason she is celebrated on a large scale, with events, special foods and moments of recollection. Together with her are the Magi, figures linked to the Catholic tradition and celebrated on January 6th.
Volagratis.com, the leader among flight search engines, went to discover the Italian traditions linked to this day of the year. A journey through the regions of the Bel Paese to fully experience the Epiphany climate: from the bonfires of the province of Treviso, to the ritual of the Cucibocca of Matera, passing through the Piedmont focaccia and the flying befane of the Marche.
Treviso, bonfires to burn the Befana
On the night between 5 and 6 January the province of Treviso is dotted with large bonfires made with dry branches, stacks of wood and straw: the traditional “pan and vin”. On the top there is “la vècia”, the old Befana, or a puppet dressed in worn clothes that represents the year that has just ended and all that is old and must be thrown away. The lighting of the bonfire is accompanied by songs, mulled wine and tongs, a typical dessert of this festival made with flour, raisins, walnuts or dried figs and many other ingredients according to the various recipes in circulation. According to tradition, eating 7 different types in front of the fireplace brings good luck and this is why, during the event, it is not difficult to find trays full of different flavors. Not only that, according to popular belief, if the smoke from the bonfire goes west or north, the new year will be positive, if, instead, it goes east or south, it will be difficult months.
Matera, the Cucibocca Night
In the province of Matera, and in particular in the municipality of Montescaglioso, the night of January 5 is the Night of the Cucibocca. The shady figures, usually hooded, with their faces covered and with a chain tied to their feet, roam the historic center threatening the little ones to sew their mouths (hence the name) and ordering them to be silent and go to sleep so that the Befana can complete its deliveries. According to some, this very ancient tradition is the personification of the end of the Christmas holidays, a way to pass from a period of food and parties to a more orderly and moderate one, typical of Lent that is approaching. Among adults, however, in the same area there is the tradition of “9 bites”, that is, the tasting of 9 delicacies typical of Lucan cuisine to greet the sweetness of Christmas.
Cuneo, the Fugassa d’la Befana
In Piedmont Epiphany appears on the tables of the province of Cuneo in the form of Fugassa d’la Befana, a leavened sweet, often covered with sugars, which resembles a flower. Among the ingredients are flour, sugar, brewer's yeast, milk, eggs, butter and candied fruit, but it hides two small surprises. In fact, two broad beans are hidden in the dough, one white and one black: by eating the dessert, those who find the white bean will have to pay the focaccia, those who, instead, find the black bean will have to pay the wine, which is notoriously more expensive. Not only that, in some areas of the province, finding the white bean is also a sign of good omen; in short, the best way to start the new year. Today it is a tradition that has also spread to other areas of the region, for example in the Alexandrian area.
Urbania, the Befana National Day
In Urbania, in the province of Pesaro and Urbino, the Befana National Day is held from 4 to 6 January, an event that welcomes hundreds of visitors from all the Marches, but not only. The protagonist is precisely the elderly lady who brings sweets and toys to good children and coal to children who, on the other hand, have not behaved well. The three days open with the mayor who gives the keys of the city to the Befana and continue with over 4000 stockings hung along the streets of the city and ready to welcome gifts. Among music, markets and meetings, the most awaited appointment is that of January 6, when the Befana descends acrobatically from the Bell Tower of the Municipality. An event that now has a very long tradition behind it and is expected above all by the little ones.
Milan, the Three Kings on the streets of the center
In Milan, Epiphany is not only synonymous with Befana, but also with the Three Wise Men, linked to the Catholic tradition as well as to the popular one. From Piazza Duomo, the three sovereigns, coming from afar to pay homage to the newborn Jesus, walk through the streets of the center in period costumes, reach the Basilica of San Lorenzo, where they meet King Herod and all his escort, and continue towards the stage final, the Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio, where they bring their gifts to the Holy Family. This tradition of the Milanese city is very ancient, it seems to date back to the Middle Ages, and every year it attracts thousands of onlookers who gather along the way to follow the numerous procession consisting of figures and animals.
Alghero, citrus fruits to wish good Epiphany
Every year, on the occasion of the Epiphany, a centuries-old tradition dedicated to children is carried out in Alghero and its province: that of les estrenes. The Strenne, in Italian, are nothing more than gifts made to children to remember the arrival of the Three Kings (Los Tres Reis) to the manger of the Child Jesus, but, in this area of Italy, the offerings are made in a way very unusual and curious. The children get an orange, often donated by the Municipality or by adults, and then, on the afternoon of January 6th, they go from house to house and from square to square to collect small change (the menuts, in Sardinian) that are inserted right into the citrus, embedded or inserted in a hole created for the occasion. The coins are always accompanied by good wishes for a good Epiphany and a happy new year.