The Christmas Witch

Today is the Festa dell' Epifania (Feast of the Epiphany), which celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12). 

In Italy, today is also the Festa della Befana. Befana (sometimes known as the Christmas witch) is an old woman with a broomstick who, on the eve of Epiphany, delivers sweets to children who have been good and a lump of coal to those who have not. 

Since 1979, Venice has celebrated this tradition with a short race along the Grand Canal, the Regata delle Befane. Now there is nothing special about racing along the Grand Canal, except in this case, the participants are men of advanced years, who are dressed up as witches. 

The rowers are all members of Il Bucintoro, which was founded in 1882, making it the oldest boat club in Venice.

The race starts at San Toma and finishes at the Ponte di Rialto, which is marked for the occasion by the hanging of a large stocking.

The end of the race was celebrated with free cups of hot chocolate and mulled wine, thin wafer-like pastries, which are normally sold during the period leading up to Lent and, of course, sweets.