Old Friends and Lost Traditions: La Befana dei Vigili

January 9, 2012 / Local Interest
Sant'Agata de' Goti, Campania

It is a well-known fact that Italians love children; they are unconditionally loved and coddled by brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and nonni. Maybe this explains the penchant for good food, wine and big family gatherings in this country: it keeps people young at heart.

No Christmas is complete without a visit from the Befana, the good witch who, on the eve of the Epiphany (Jan. 6th), flies up and down the peninsula on her broomstick, visiting every single child, bringing gifts of sweets if they are good, or pieces of coal if they’ve been bad.

When I first came to Italy in 1960, it was traditional for the Befana to extend her visits to the vigili (traffic police) as well. In appreciation of their hard work, gifts of panettone and wine were brought by well-wishers to the policemen directing traffic on their podiums.

befanavigili2These memories were brought home to me by my 80-year-old friend and neighbor Giancarlo, now retired in S. Agata dè Goti, who worked as a traffic policeman. He invited me on a walk through his old haunts in Naples and after a morning spent in the neighborhood of Portici, with pauses for sfogliatelle and New Years greetings, we stopped at a bar for coffee on the main square. Lo and behold! There, on the wall, was a big picture of Giancarlo as a young man, dressed in uniform, with a bottle of wine crooked in his left arm!

With time, the Befana dei Vigili became degraded by corporations looking to publicize their products and who gave away gas cookers, refrigerators and washing machines in exchange for big promotional signs.

For more pictures of the Befana dei Vigili click here, here, here, here, here and here.

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Barbara Goldfield

by Barbara Goldfield

Owner of “Savour The Sannio”, www.savourthesannio.com, a travel consultancy for central and southern Italy.

8 Responses to “Old Friends and Lost Traditions: La Befana dei Vigili”

  1. Anne Robichaud

    THanks, Barbara / enjoyed! Here, all over Umbria, vigili del Fuoco were enchanting kids in the piazzas, dressed as witches and flying off roofs on cords, climbing poles, etc – after all, here in Italy, the Vigili del Fuoco (Firemen) must often go through all kinds of contortions when rescuing………..

    Reply
  2. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    THANK YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN, THIS IS THE TYPE OF NOTE I LOVE..IT TOUCHES YOUR HEART AND VERY SOUL OF WHO WE ARE AS ITALIANS

    Reply
  3. Fidelma Giancone

    Great Memories from my birth place, Naples. Thanks for the memories.
    Fidelma Giancone

    Reply
  4. Barb,

    What a great article. Even with my limited knowledge of the country I can see that the 60’s were classic times in Italy. You captured it well!

    Reply
  5. Vincenzo Miscolini

    I really enjoyed being able to click on all the here, here’s and exploring those links. Ciao

    Reply
  6. Barb – as always, a wonderfully timeless article that captures the essence of living here.

    Reply
  7. Paul Abato

    Milli grazi for this article. It certainly shows the warmth Italians have for children and other people. Paul Vito Abato (de Napoli)

    Reply

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