Ever heard of the Befana before? She’s a Santa Claus like character who, in the night of the 5th of January (after the Panevin festivity), takes her broom and flies from house to house to bring sweets to all the children (who behaved well the months before). Naughty boys/girls too receive a gift: carbon. (You may laugh, but some years ago it was real carbon. Now parents prefer to fill their kids socks with a sweet “carbon imitation” made of sugar and egg whites.)
The Befana, actually, has nothing to do with Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas in case you’re from a European country), but is connected with Epiphany: According to a legend, the three Magi (during their journey to Jesus Christ) met an old woman who first wanted to join their “mission”, but then decided not to do so. She changed her mind another time, but couldn’t find the Magi any more, and thus Jesus Christ neither. As she wasn’t able give Christ her presents, she brings them to all the other children instead in the night of the 5th of January: She takes her huge bag and her broom and flies from house to house, slips through the chimney and fills the children’s socks. The children also prepare a little snack for her before going to bed: a glass of wine and an orange. (Well, the Befana must have a hollow leg if she’s still able to continue her journey without any accident after the first 5 houses. Respect!)
In the morning of the 6th of January, Venice celebrates the Befana with the Regata delle Befane where all the participants are dressed up like witches. The regatta starts at Ca’ Foscari and finishes at the Rialto Bridge (Fondamenta del Vin) that’s decorated with a giant sock. Duration: 10 minutes. The official event begin this year was at 10 am (but the regatta only started at 11 am) and the Rialto Bridge actually was already pretty crowded at that time. After the regatta, there’s free hot spiced wine and tea for all, and even the Befana is around to give you sweets.
You have definitely the best view from the top of the Rialto Bridge (as you can see the “whole” Canal Grande) or from the Fondamenta alongside the Canal Grande (before the finish). (This year we stood at the Fondamenta next to the Rialto Bridge, but unfortunately weren’t able too see a lot of the regatta, as the finish is some meters before the bridge.)