January 7th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

Regatta della Befana

Epiphany is a national holiday in Italy. It's known as Befana's day, the day that the Befana set out, following the three wise men she'd seen twelve days earlier. Those twelve days gave her time to do baking and clean the house, but by then she'd lost the way to find baby Jesus. So, instead, she went around to the houses of boys and girls and swept their floors and filled their shoes/socks/stockings with her baking.

Venice celebrates Befana's day with a regatta, not of Befana but many of them. Each Befana is a cross-dressed man, each with her own boat. A wooden broom stood upright, like a flagpole, towards the front of the boat, while the Befana stood in the rear, rowing her way through the race and the hope of victory. The Rialto, the finish line, was crowded with people, watching and cheering. We watched from a nearby fondamenta, where there was more space and visibility, while Befanas rowed by, as did other teams of racers. Presumably, there are two categories to the race. Afterwards, other Befanas handed out free cups of vin brûlé to the crowds. We missed the traditional Venetian pastries, but it was a small loss given the fun of the race.