CIAO CIAO BELLA ITALIA!
This year I am saying goodbye to my Italian holiday around the big annual bonfire and with a little tear in my eye, I warm up in front of the fire whilst munching a piece of traditional Pinza cake, all washed down with soothing vin brulee (mulled wine).
Epiphany is the day when the three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to worship Jesus. To me Epiphany means bonfire too.
The tradition of lighting a bonfire on the day of Epiphany is pre-christian and steps right back to the Middle Ages, a period of demons and magic. This was acquired and adapted by the Christian tradition. It is very popular in the north-east of Italy.
During the Middle ages this time of the year was crucial, because it was immediately after the sowing season and was full of hopes and expectations for the future harvest and people relied on it for survival.
Lighting a bonfire meant saying goodbye, therefore what had not been good of the past year was burned. Basically a good wish for the new year.
If you drive around in the evenings on the 5th and the 6th of January you will see the landscape illuminated by an aura of light – magical! All north-eastern Italian villages and towns and many people at home will light a bonfire often with a puppet (the poor Befana!) on top which represents the old year burned on a stake to welcome a new wishful year.
People will gather around it, eat some pinza (the typical Epiphany cake, made with fennel, dried fruit and pine nuts and not to be confused with pizza) and drink a glass of mulled wine.
The warmth of the fire in the cold winter air makes the atmosphere feel magical and a feeling of nostalgia is in the air. This is because all the Christmas celebrations and a whole year are over and a new, hopefully prosperous, year has started.
Then, depending on the direction the smoke goes, people will make predictions as to whether or not it will be a good year.
And hopefully it will be…