This year we were lucky to arrive in Italy early enough to enjoy the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany commemorating the visit of the three Iranian astrologers (i Magi) to the baby Jesus. In Perugia, the celebration included a children’s party honoring La Befana, a costumed procession through the historic center of Perugia, and a free concert by a local community orchestra. La Befana is an old crone who, it is reputed, visits children on the eve of the Epiphany (5 January) to leave gifts of candy for “good” children and coal for misbehaved kids. The legend of Befana, which is an Italian original, is that the Magi stopped at her hut to ask directions to Bethlehem to visit the newborn king. Befana, always busy with sweeping and baking, could not help them, but after they had left she regrets that she hadn’t joined them. So she packs her bag with goodies and her broom and sets out to find il Bambino. (Part of the legend is that she had lost her only child and looks for the newborn to alleviate her grief.) She never does find him, and so she continues her quest to this day, visiting homes wherever there are children and leaving gifts and sweeping the floor. Interestingly, a Perugian street sweeper had attached a Befana doll to his little 3-wheeled Piaggio – no doubt a tribute to the patroness of sweepers. See the pictures. The procession portraying the Magi assembled in the Piazza d’Italia and I was able to get a photo of a double-humped camel – the real star of the parade -- and his handler.
We brought you peace!
As they proceeded down the Corso Vannucci, I took a video showing the Magi and other fantastic characters, including a black prince sitting high atop the camel looking impossibly dignified. As if all this weren’t amazing enough, the musicians played – of all things – an Israeli folk song “Havenu shalom aleichem” (We brought you peace).
After the procession, there was a free concert, in the beautiful Sala dei Notari (the old City Council chamber in the 13th Century Palazzo dei Priori) by a local community orchestra, La Filarmonica Pretola, with a surprisingly eclectic selection of tunes ranging from Harold Arlen to Giuseppe Verdi. The band – all wind instruments plus percussion -- played well enough, but for me the highlight was the improvising lead trumpeter in "Over the Rainbow" (Sopra il Arcobaleno) who had amazing chops despite his advanced years – see the video.