If the blackbird brought on an extra three days to the cold season because he couldn’t shut his beak, then who do you think became the fall guy to put an end to winter’s misery? I’ll give you one guess. And it’s a she.
The Giubiana is a straw effigy of an old hag, or more likely a witch, that by tradition is set to flame on a Saturday or on the last Thursday of January. She symbolizes all of winter’s hardships and with the igniting of the rogo (funeral pyre), exorcises the remnants of the dark days in order to prepare for spring. The Festa della Giubiana or Rogo della Giubiana seems more prevalent in the Como province and I wouldn’t be surprised if the fire departments are on red alert for that day! From what I’ve read, the stronger the fire, the better it will be for the new season. The custom afterwards is to partake in a bowl of risotto with sausage and vin brülé.
Speculations to the Giubiana’s origins go back as far as the days of witch hunts, celtic rituals, and the Inquisition. Keep in mind, of course, the legends and old tales of which nightmares are made of and read like the Brothers Grimm. Take this one for example:
[The Giubiana was a skinny witch with long, long legs and red stockings. She lived in the forest and due to her very long legs, never set foot on the ground, but traveled from tree to tree. In this way she was able to observe anyone that entered and took a lot of pleasure in frightening them, most of all little children. On the last Thursday of January she went in search of a little boy to eat, but a mother, desperate to keep her son safe, formulated a clever plan. She prepared a big pot of risotto with saffron and sausage, and put it next to an open window. The aroma was so mouthwateringly delicious that the Giubiana, unable to resist, quickly hopped onto her broomstick and flew toward the risotto where she began to eat greedily. There was so much of it, and it was so good, that she forgot about the rising sun. The sun is the death of witches, so the child was saved.]
Last evening’s gathering in Guanzate was like a great bonfire in the square, the dark origins of the symbolic flames obscured by a festive air. As an outsider, I admit to having felt a little uneasy as I looked on in morbid fascination. That effigy was no scarecrow plucked from a garden, it was too lifelike! At one point, a voice somewhere behind me said, “Resiste vecchia…” (Don’t give in old one) — and it happened about the same time that I figured I’d seen too many “burning at the stake” movies. Whatever, it was engaging to witness the ancient ways carrying on in the bright flames that night.
La Giubiana in Canzo
In the town of Canzo (province of Como) the event is particularly articulated in an enactment of a judicial trial spoken completely in canzanese dialect. The unfortunate personage who plays La Giubiana is brought to court before an expectant public and systematically tried by a slew of symbolic characters. Naturally I could occasionally understand only parts of it, but over at Italian Roots, my better half shares a post detailing the unique characters involving La Giubiana di Canzo.