The tradition of setting up falò (bonfires) in January, as a propitiatory act for the new year, is widespread in the north of the country – and of course even in Friuli Venezia Giulia – maybe because of its Celtic origins. A pagan rite that never went out of fashion, despite Christianity, bonfires were once rituals bound to agriculture: the act of burning a heap of dead wood in an open field was meant to favour better harvests for the year that had just begun.
And often the way the fire burnt, or the turn the smoke would take while spiralling up to the skies, was a sign of good or bad omen depending on the direction. As it happens, for instance, with the big bonfire or “Pignarûl Grant” that takes place every year in Tarcento (near Udine) on Epiphany Day. The Revered Old Man (Vecchio Venerando) looks up to the smoke rising from the pyre and says his forecast for the future. This year, the ceremony wasn't made public because of Covid-19 restrictions but the woodpile was burnt nonetheless on the 9th January (three days later than usual) thanks to Associazione Pro Tarcento's organization. And as for 2021, the Revered Old Man said that things will get better after Easter, and men will need to help each other to get through hardships. Traditionally, the Tarcento bonfire paves the way for all the other smaller ones in the surrounding valley, which light up after the Pignarûl Grant.
From Friuli to Lumbardy, cheering up around a falò
New year's falò or bonfires usually take place on Epiphany Day, that is on the 6th January, but some traditions have it their own way. In Friuli these bonfires have different names, depending on the provinces: Pignarûl is the most famous, but they're also called foghera, seima, panevin...
In Lumbardy and Piedmont, for example, they celebrate the so called “giubiana”, an old woman (or witch) representing the old year that just passed: that's why, in the past, the pile was made by stacking up furniture or anything else that people wanted to dismiss, with the old woman's puppet on the top.
Then there are the Saint Anthony's bonfires which are wide known also in the south of Italy, and are held in the saint's death date in the middle of January. Anthony the Abbot is traditionally linked to domestic animals, so often the blessing of animals goes along with the bonfires.
One thing is for sure: usually around bonfires people not only sing and dance in circles, but they also... enjoy some delicious treats! Grilled sausages, home made sweets and an element that can't be missing: hot mulled wine to keep oneself warm in the freezing cold of the countryside.
Cover photo: a falò happily crackling in the cold