Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Epifania (Epiphany) and La Befana

Two separate yet totally Italian events were celebrated today. Florence's Cavalcade of the Magi and La Befana.

La Befana is a witch who leaves good children candy in their stockings and bad children get a lump of coal. The story is that when the three kings got to Italy they asked her for directions and when she didn't know where Jesus was, asked if she wanted to come with them. She refused, but after they left she regretted saying no. She went looking for them, couldn't find them or Jesus. Now every January 5th she comes in through the chimney, leaves gifts and sweeps the floor before she leaves. Like Santa, kids either believe completely or know the truth and don't care, because candy is candy regardless of who delivers it.

Epiphany is a Christian holiday around the world, but being Lutheran I've never seen a parade to celebrate it; we just went to church. It's possible I suppose that the Catholics in my community celebrated this way, but one would think I'd have heard about it....maybe even seen it. Here in Italy I saw my first Epifania and it was something. It's a recreation of an event that was held in the 15th century during the height of the power of the Medici family and is therefore properly sober and distinguished and everyone in the parade is very serious about it.

If I understood what I was seeing (and no one actually Italian was there to tell me if I'm wrong or not. I mean someone I actually knew. There were tons of Italians there.) Mary and Joseph were set up in the little stable in front of the giant church. With great fanfare, the three Magi and their entourage came all the way from the Pitti Palace on the other side of the river to pay their respects to Jesus.

The start I waited almost an hour to see.
Jealously guarding my position from
pushy Italians.
Here in Florence the three Kings arrive accompanied by drums and fanfare trumpets and flags and small cannons. They ride into the piazza at the Duomo on horses, but this year as luck would have it there is a circus in town and they loaned the event three camels to bring a note of realism to the whole thing. They were led by a handler a few hundred feet after the Magi. I would have liked to see the kings actually riding the camels, but maybe they aren't the kind of camels one rides. Who knows? The kings were also accompanied by all the important people of the area around Florence. Everyone brought gifts. Everyone was in Medieval dress except for Mary and Joseph, who were appropriately garbed in robes.

Villages (and/or their contrade, which are kind of like neighborhoods that compete in a variety of ways) from around the region are represented by their flags and drums and their most illustrious citizens dressed in all their Medieval finery. They all gather in front of the church for a small ceremony, then parade back out again. It was the first real "period" event I've been able to actually see here (after two years!) and I enjoyed every crowded, cold and crazy moment of it.

One of the regal ladies. There were many.
Lots of flags...
...and drums.

Noble men struttin' their stuff.

I think the feathers are to make
the enemy think the cannon
shoots pillows instead of cannonballs.

More drums.

They start very young learning to throw
flags. It's one of the things contrade compete in.

Ah, the kings.

The kings arrive.

The camels are awesome.

Did I mention there were a lot of drums?

Various people out to protect and serve.

Many, many couples parading
through town in their finest.

Each village sends gifts.

Bread and fritata.

Live chickens. In case they get hungry?

Gathering before the church and the stable scene.

It's not a parade without bagpipes.

Falcons. These were amazing.
In a scary kind of way.

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