Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bonfires: Epifania e Panevin

photo courtesy of
January is a time when I review the previous year and  map out goals for the new one. I recently read of a tradition that is performed tonight, on the eve of the Epiphany, in some regions of Italy. Many people know about the Italian tradition of Befana, the old woman who delivers gifts to children while they sleep tonight, but there's another tradition that has caught my attention this year. Bonfires to mark the new year are a popular tradition in Northeast Italy. Given its prevalence, there are many versions and names: in Friuli it is called pignarûl, while in Veneto they refer to the event as panevin, from bread and wine, the simple food that is consumed during the event.

The bonfire is made from a heap of dry branches, brushwood, or firewood. As the fire burns, everyone throws on the pile whatever is no longer needed. Furniture, clothes, even mementos are added to the fire. A puppet, representing an old lady, is often placed on the top of the pile; this figure represents all mishaps and calamities during the past year, and burning it effectively obliterates any traces of those events.

We can't build a bonfire in our backyard, but my son and I have decided to celebrate our own panevin, using a firepit that was a Christmas gift. We intend to write out the things that we would like to forget or let go of, our "calamaties" from the past year, and clear the way for new beginnings. I am currently planning out my next three month stay in Italy. In March, I'll spend a few weeks in Puglia, a region that I know little about and have never seen. My son is planning a longer trip: a 2-year bicycle journey, from Kansas to South America. So we are eager to let go of anything that could hold us back from our goals: instead, we'll invite visions of our future travels as we gaze into the fire.

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