Tomorrow is Saint Anthony Abbot’s day and in many parts of Italy we celebrate it with bonfires – in Italian “falò“. The fires symbolise purification, banishing evil and welcoming the rebirth of the sun, essential for a good harvest.
Fara Filiorum Petri in Abruzzo is famed throughout Italy for its celebration of this tradition. Here, on January 16th “le Farchie” – a type of bonfire made from tall & thin reeds – is burnt at dusk accompanied by folk songs and traditional music.
The legend recounts how St. Anthony saved the village of Fara from French Invasion via a miraculous intervention. On the 16th of January 1799, the French were all set to occupy the village but St. Anthony appeared in front of the French army dressed as a military general. He warned the soldiers to stop at the wood before the crossing into the village, but the soldiers pushed forward regardless, at which St Antony transformed the trees into a huge flame to scare away the enemy.
The Preparation of “le Farchie”
After Christmas time every “contrada” (town district or quarters) of Fara gets ready for the celebrations and starts to collect reeds necessary to make its own “Farchia”.
The bundle is made following a precise process, each required to be around 7-9 meters long. The bundle is so big and heavy that it requires the strength of the town’s youngest folk combined with the wisdom of the older generation to succeed. There’s rivalry amongst the different quarters, and sometimes they steal or sabotage each others reeds so the bundles are always kept secret and hidden away.
In the afternoon of January 16th, every “contrada” carry its “Farchia” along the streets of the town and places it in the main square of Fara.
At dusk all the Farchie are set alight to provide a stunning and warm show. As nights falls, the tops of the blazing bundles are brought to each “contrada” and the rest of the night is spent eating special sweets, drinking good Abruzzese wine, singing and dancing.
Every step of this event is fascinating because of the convivial atmosphere, the cheerful folk music but especially because of the joyful feeling which bonds together adults and children, young and old people alike.