According to folklore we are currently in the most magical time of the year – the twelve days between Christmas and the Epiphany. It was believed witches were most present at this time especially on the twelfth night (remember your Shakespeare?) – The eve of the Epiphany – it, the 5th January, was considered the most magical night of the year, when wishes could be made and the future could be predicted through ‘signs’ and games.
In some parts of Italy an olive tree leaf, thrown into the fire could tell you if your wish would come through or not. If it took long to burn your wish would be fulfilled. However if instead it burned too quickly, it was hard luck try again next year and a sign to adjust your wishes.
It was the night girls would place three broad beans in various stages of being peeled, under their pillow and believed they would see their future husbands in their dreams.
In the morning they would reach under their pillow and pull out a bean. If it was the the fully peeled one then it meant the groom would be rich, if it was the unpeeled one he would be poor and the half-peeled one indicated he’d be something in the middle.
Christmas spirit starts later in Italy than other parts of the western world but lasts longer and it is much less commercialised.
They tend to wait until the 6th December to turn on the Christmas lights and the celebrations go on until the 6th January with the night of the 5th January, being the favourite for kids as it is the night the Befana comes.
I was first told about La Befana a few years ago by a baker.
“What the hell is that?” I said pointing at the pile of dark grey lumps piled in the basket on the counter of the bakery.
“It is Carbone, made from sugar,” the baker smiles as he packs up my cream cakes. “If you are bad, La Befana leaves them for you.”
“I think you call her a witch?”
He points to the smiling puppet witch sitting on her broomstick hanging from the shelf.
It turns out that La Befana is a happy smiling old lady, who rides around on her broomstick comes down the chimney and leaves candy and presents for good children and a lump of coal if they are bad. A glass of wine and some food is left out for the Befana. It all sounds familiar doesn’t it? As with so many pagan traditions and idols, when Christian gaslighting became all the rage, La Befana’s action were absorbed into Santa and the lady herself absorbed into a biblical story.
The legend now stands that the three wise men stopped at her home over night on their way to finding the infant Jesus. She was known to be the best housekeeper in the village so the choice of house was natural. They all got on so well that the lads invited her along on their adventure but naturally after having three men stay in her house she felt had too much housework to do.
But later in the day she said “feck it, life is too short to miss out on such an invitation”, so she jumped on her broomstick and tried to catch up with them and see the baby they were so excited about. To this day, La Befana is searching for the lads and the baby. While searching she leaves all the good children toys and sweets, while the bad children get coal (‘carbone’), onions or garlic.
Anyone who sees La Befana will receive a thump from her broomstick – a rumour created to keep children in their beds. This scare tactic was not absorbed by Santa Claus, which is unfortunate as it’s one of my favourites.
The ancient Italians seemed keen to scare their kids into sleeping, as this ‘lullaby’ translated to english would indicate:
Who will I give this child to?
If I give it to the Befana
she will keep him one whole week.
If I give it to the Bogey Man
he will keep him one whole year.
But if the child goes to slee
then his mother will him keep.”
Of course the Italian christians tried to get rid of the idea of a loved ‘witch’. On the morning of 6th January, sacristans would go from house to house leaving the ‘Bboffe water’, which was to be sprinkled around the house to keep witches away. Which was a bit late on their part since La Befana would have been and gone the night before.
So get your beans, coal and olive leaves ready for the last Christmas celebration Italian style, but forget the Bboffe water, the world could do with the help of a few good witches now.
Tomorrow, Monday the 1st November, I will be hosting the second 30 minute slot of our 10 hour launch party on Facebook for our Christmas 20 book anthology: Clues, Christmas Trees and Corpses.
It’s available on all ebook online outlets for only 99 cents for another few days only!
Working on ‘A Rosie Life in Italy’ gave me the writing bug again. While I am enjoying working on the next book in the ‘A Rosie Life in Italy’ series, it’s based on real life so this series will be a slow burner with a book coming out once per year. I’m a fast writer so I needed to get my teeth into something else and through the help of some writer friends I discovered the world of Cozy Mysteries.
Cozy mysteries are like Scooby Doo for adults. There is a solid mystery to be solved by an amateur sleuth but there’s no blood or gore, and any violence or sex usually happens behind closed doors. So the focus stays on the mystery that needs to be solved.
They are usually quick reads, Harper Collins recommends writers to stick to a word count of 50k which is the length of mine. Most books in a series will have a complete story but the series will have recurring characters and often the setting is in the same small town or area.
They are quite addictive!
So far I have written three in my Deadly Wedding Cozy Mystery series and I am part of a Christmas Cozy Mystery Anthology with 19 other cozy mystery writers–some are USA Today best sellers, so I am in good company! The Anthology is HUGE as it is more like a library of cozy mysteries. And it is only going to be 99 cent!
So for a FREE sampler of cozy mysteries, you can download 6 of the stories in the Christmas Anthology here: FREE Cozy Mysteries
I bought the tickets for Ronan as a Christmas present in 2019, Andrea Bocelli in the Theatre of Silence near his home in Tuscany. The concert was originally to take place in July 2021 the weekend of our 24th anniversary but of course, due to Covid, was postponed to the following year to our 25th anniversary, which would make it all the more special.
We stopped off for a quick lunch in a hilltop town on the way. It was 2.15pm, so we had to be quick. As everyone in Italy knows, restaurants open at 12.30 for lunch and usually close by 2.30pm. They don’t open again until 7pm for dinner. There are no ‘in between’ time dining places.
This takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you are a tourist… You have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, set off to visit a small town, do some sightseeing and want to sit to eat at 3pm or have a drink. Not possible.
“No! You are in Italy,” I heard one waitress roar at a german tourist last week who had enquired about having a snack and some beers at 3pm just as the restaurant was closing. So you can’t eat. And not only that but you can’t shop, because all the shops close ‘for lunch’ until 4pm. So even if you time it right and go to visit a town in time for lunch at 1pm and finish by 2.30pm, you are left wandering the streets salivating at the things in windows you would like to buy, but can’t, because they are not open until 4pm.
I’ve asked Italians what we’re supposed to do during this ‘lull’.
“You are supposed to be having a siesta. To digest your lunch.”
“But if a tourist is visiting a town an hour or two from their accommodation, what are they supposed to do. Go sit in their car?”
“I don’t know, but the Italians need to digest their lunch.”
The concert was due to start at 8.30pm seating was open from 5.30pm. Refreshment and food stalls would be available. So we left the hotel at 6.15pm. With the plan to arrive by 7pm and get something at one of the food stalls. Nothing major just something to fill us up.
There is traffic entering the area from all roads but it’s all well organised. Lots of staff to direct and keep the traffic flowing. We park in the assigned field and walk through the fields and up the hill to the outdoor space. I had thought it would be bigger and more slopped, like some of the many amphitheaters visited throughout Italy and that we would sit on stone shelved seating, but this is flat enough for plastic chairs to be placed on the different levels. So it gives more of a feeling of a field than an amphitheatre. Some people are carrying picnic baskets. I had considered bringing food and drinks, but thought it would be like previous concerts I had attended back in Ireland, where this was forbidden. This event is much more casual. More of a Sunday picnic feel.
There are no food stalls. There’s a gelato cart with a long queue of people and there are drink stalls. These sell panini also. We queue and then notice it says no bankomat. Cash only. So we queue at another, but that is the same. We panic. Neither of us had considered getting cash out, but both usually have some on us. But not today. We are searching in our pockets and end of our wallets and scrape together 16 euro in coin. “That’s enough for a panino, €6, two bottles of water €2 each and one glass of wine €6 or a second panino.”
“I’m still okay from lunch, so I’ll have the wine and no panini,” I say, sacrificing myself.
“Do you think he’s going to come galloping in on his horse?” says Ronan jokingly.
“Don’t be ridiculous Ronan… that’s him there.” I point to his helicopter making a dip over the crowd before flying off to the other side of a hill.
“Although it would be pretty cool to see him coming across the hills on his horse.”
“He lives nearby, why not?”
Bocelli on horseback was the cover photo for our magazine two years ago, his horse looks amazing.
An hour after the scheduled start time, church bells toll over the speakers and the orchestra make their way to their seats. I feel quite excited. Just as they sit, a large drop of water lands on my lap. I feel like someone has spat on me. Not a good feeling during Covid. Within seconds, others around me are looking up to the sky at the large dark cloud that has formed above us. I’m wondering what they will do if it starts to rain. There must be a cover that goes over the stage to protect the classical instruments.
They do a warm up song and I remember how good a live orchestra sounds and pulls at your emotions. In walks Andrea. I settle in to be amazed. The gods spit on us again throughout his warm up. He then performs an operatic piece with another guy. Then another with a soprano woman. There’s a song in between by another excellent soprano who was one of their scholarship students. They are all great, but I am not an opera fan. I want to hear Andrea Bocelli classics. The other soprano woman does a solo and the skies open just as she finishes. The orchestra makes a run for it with their very expensive instruments that cannot get wet.
The conductor announces, “we’ll just wait a few minutes until the rain passes”. The rain stops after 10 minutes and the orchestra returns. They set up and it starts to rain again. So they run off with their precious instruments.
After five minutes, Andrea comes on and someone brings him a guitar. He sings ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Che Sera’. Obviously it was not part of the planned repertoire but at least it’s Andrea Bocelli.
The rain is spitting on and off, but too much for instruments. They announce they will have an early interval. It stops raining immediately. When the interval time is up, the orchestra makes their way to their places again. As soon as they are ready, it starts to lightly rain. The musicians make a run for it. We wait. It stops they make their way out again cautiously. The wind is picking up. It’s 11.15pm my back is hurting from sitting in the seat for three hours now, my stomach is growling and I’m not in the overcome with emotional state I expected to be in by this time. I’m just a bit damp from the rain. “If it happens again, will we go?” I say to Ronan.
He has been enjoying watching the bright orange fork lightening bouncing around the hills, that’s getting very close. “I don’t think this concert is going to happen. It’s weird they don’t have a backup plan, even a recording of the orchestra which he can sing to. I know it wouldn’t be the full experience, but Andrea doing karaoke would do me just fine.”
We wait. The rain stops. The orchestra return. I feel sorry for them. I’m sure they need to get into the feel of things more than I do to do their best and they can’t be happy participating in the Olympic style sprints off the stage as the gods tease us under dark skies. I see some stars above. A break in the clouds, that’s hopeful.
As soon as they are seated, they spit again. I see the stage manager arguing with someone. They all look demoralised as they walk off again.
“Come on, let’s go,” I say. “This is just feeling frustrating.” It’s the event planner coming out in me. I plan outdoor events and there always has to be a backup plan. I wouldn’t mind getting wet sitting in the audience, but I would expect a backup plan to keep valuable instruments safe and able to continue the performance.
We’re not the only ones who are leaving a little disappointed. We join a large crowd of mask wearers as we stream out of the theatre space and make our way down the beaten track towards the car park. To the right, there is a cluster of vehicles. There’s a temporary wall built of straw bales. People are leaning on one side chatting. On the other, there is a beautiful chestnut stallion with a long black mane. On his back, there is a man with a fantastic face. The horse is frisky, a bit freaked out by the lightening and distant thunder. We come close to being eye to eye. But I know by the man’s face he is in complete control.
“Oh my God, it’s Sir Cesar! I recognise him from the cover of the magazine.” I say to Ronan at the surreal scene in front of me of the snorting, frisky beauty dances as another flash of lightening strikes the hill behind.
“You know that guy?”
“No, the horse. It’s Andrea Bocelli’s. You were right, he must have arrived on horseback!”
It’s too late to get food anywhere, but we find a shop open on the way home and we buy a bag of crisps each for dinner.
It wasn’t exactly the romantic, memorable night I was expecting for our 25th anniversary celebration, but at least I got to be eye to eye with Andrea Bocelli’s horse.