Panevin: celebrating the Epiphany
The Christmas holiday is not officially over until the Epiphany arrives, the 6th of January, when La Befana rules and the traditional “panevin” is lit.
On the Epiphany Eve, the 5th of January, a ritual those meanings are deeply rooted both in pagan and catholic beliefs takes place: the panevin, a bonfire to lit the way for the Three Kings en route to Bethlehem bearing gifts to Baby Jesus but also a bonfire to represent the spirit of the rural culture, which burn the “vecia”, the old straw-like lady put on top of it, sign of the past year and all things we want to get rid of to give way to the spring and a better year (and a better harvest). That’s why the old men would stand back and observe the fire to foretell the coming year by “decoding” the smoke: if the ashes go straight up in the air it’s a good omen, if they flow to the west it would be a great year but better they don’t go to the est ..it will suck!
For the rest of hundreds people gather to admire the bonfire it will probably be simply another excuse to get together, have a laugh and exchange again the wishes for the New Year while having wine and cake. That’s probably where also the name Panevin came from: the pinza, a rustic sweet bread filled with raisins, figs and pine nuts, and the mulled wine are served throughout this event or rather “pan” (bread) and “vin” (wine) synonymous for nourishment and well-being as simple as that.
In the past panevin was made individually by families with the off-cuts from pruning and brushwood but nowadays is more likely to be a giant bonfire organized by local or private organisations and held in the major piazza or fields all around Veneto. This folklore event is often seen as a friendly competition between neighbouring towns to build the biggest and the most impressive bonfire. Hence to avoid the competition some bonfires are lit in the following days of the Epiphany Eve but the biggest and most renowned in the Marca Trevigiana remain the one arranged in the town of Arcade on the 5th of January with its 8/10-meters of height, pretty impressive but for once size doesn’t matter and watching the panevin burning, whatever is small or big, somehow, has a magical feel.
• Only after the 6th of January, in Italy, it’s habit to finally take down the Christmas decorations and pack them away…until next one.
• Eat pinza is considered good luck.
• Despite the Befana is a good-hearted witch, she is also old and ugly so if you are ever goanna be called befana is not really a compliment for a women.
• In Italy, on the Epiphany Eve, La Befana travels roof to roof on her broomstick to fill up stockings with candies to the good kids and “carbone”, sugary-charcoal, to the naughty. The hard job of delivering nice gifts to the kids still belong to Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve.
• An old saying goes “L’Epifania, tutte le feste si porta via” meaning Epiphany carries away all the holidays but another proverb says “Dopo le sante feste de Natal, le santissime de carnaval!” After the holy feasts of Christmas, the most holy ones of carnival! which means another festival isn’t far away at all.