Gorfigliano in Garfagnana: the land of NatalecciLocal Traditions
Gorfigliano in Garfagnana: the land of Natalecci
Garfagnana is a land full of mysteries and legends and Christmas is no exception. On the night of 24th December, in fact, in Gorfigliano, a small village in the municipality of Minucciano perched on the slopes of Mount Pisanino, every year an ancient and fascinating tradition is celebrated: the Natalecci. What are they? These are cylindrical structures constructed by driving a wooden trunk called 'tempia' into the ground around which a large quantity of juniper branches are weaved with a painstaking procedure called 'tessitura'. These structure are truly huge: they can measure up to four meters in width and fifteen in height.
Do you want to know what they are used for and why they are so big? Their remarkable size stems from the fact that they are burnt the night of Christmas Eve with the intent of making the flames visible from far away. It is an ancient ritual, which is said to date back to 100 BC. and that has survived to the present day as a combination of pagan customs and Christian symbols.
Construction of the Natalecci begins in Gorfigliano on 8th December, and the time-honoured tradition of weaving the juniper branches is being handed down by the elderly to the younger generations. Why is precisely juniper used? Because it is one of the essences best suited to give rise to a blazing fire. Every year three Natalecci are built and placed on as many raised locations in the districts of Bagno, Colliceto and Fenale. The best viewing point is definitely the Church Square from where you can enjoy a truly unmatched spectacle. When the Natalecci are lit, after the Ave Maria, loud clapping and shouts of joy ensue, after which, according to tradition, the Natalecci must burn for at least twenty minutes. The flames are so high that they seem to touch the sky.
Needless to say the huge bonfires lighting up the darkness of the most magical night of the year are just fascinating and amazing to watch! And what happens after the bonfires have died out? It is then time for people’s spirits to flame up. This is Tuscany, a land of fiery temperaments: heated debates are started over which Nataleccio was the best and why something may not have worked to perfection. Needless to say, discussions can drag on until the following year!
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