Brusar la Vecia

 

Befana is a figure of Italian folklore, linked to Christmas holidays. According to the traditional iconography, she is an old woman, who in the night between January, the 5th and 6th, flies on an old broom to fill the socks that children have hung for her. If they behave well during the year, she will give sweets and small toys; if they behave bad, they will find coal in their socks.

In various parts of the North-East of Italy, among which Venice, on January, the 6th, Epiphany holiday, there is the tradition of burning the old woman, symbol of the past year. This practice has ancient origins and refers to the respect that many agricultural civilizations showed to earth: by burning the witch, it’s celebrated the victory of the good weather on the freezing winter and it’s meant to give fertility to fields. The link with pagan practices, in this case, is evident, and maybe this tradition goes back to ten th or six th century b.C. The old woman to be burnt is a puppet on a cart in a procession, made by guys who make noise to revive the sad atmosphere of Lent.

The puppet is made of wood and has in its hands a spindle and a bunch of flax and carries with it grapes, dried figs, chestnuts, carobs, apples and small gifts that gives to the countrymen before being burnt, as symbol of the old year that has gone, but leaving the seeds from which the new year can rise. During the procession it passes door-to-door and receives all the resentment for what has gone wrong during the year. After the process for all the cruelties she has done, the witch is sentenced to be burnt in a not cultivated field.

The link with the pagan culture and the concurrence with Lent have raised the Church disapproval towards this practice, seen as Satan’s action. Hence, the change from the process to the witch to the process to the huge hearty meals of the Carnival, with the resulting glorification of Lent purification and abstinence and death, final destiny of mankind.