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El falo' dela vecia (The bonfire of the Befana) in Prato della Valle.

There is a mysterious fascination in the Twelfth Night, the night of the Epiphany, the last one of the Christmas period, that has always bewitched people from all Europe.
The Epiphany's fires in Northern Italy date back to a rituality that is undoubtedly (and also deeply) Celtic, and whose origins go back for thousands of years.

According to legend, the Wise Men asked the kindly old witch to accompany them to see the infant Jesus. She refused, saying she was too busy and had to clean her house, and so she missed the wondrous sight. Each year, La Befana goes from house to house, leaving gifts and looking for the Christ child.

In Veneto, in the countryside surrounding Venice (and elsewhere in northern Italy), the Befana is called Vecia (old lady) and burnt tied to a pole on the Eve of the Epiphany.
The tradition is strictly connected to the agrarian world of the Veneti, a pre-Roman culture then absorbed in the Roman Empire, and close to the Celts. Christmas was originally the day of the sun, Epiphany is the day of the moon, which was connected in that culture with nature and fertility. The Befana is a representation of the dying nature that brings food and drinks (the bonfires are aptly called Pan e Vin - bread and wine). Her burning does not express ingratitude, rather it signals the end of agrarian winter and through fertility, it prompts the raise of a new nature that will bring once again food and drinks to the people. The insults and the rubbish burnt with her represent the destruction of all the bad things happened during the previous year and are a form of purification and spiritual rebirth of the people along with the surrounding nature.

(from Epiphany in Veneto by Andrea Vianello and Epiphany in Friuli)

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Additional Photos by Dario Marizza (dmarizz) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 280 W: 150 N: 477] (2796)
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