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The Unique New Year's Tradition in Southern Italy: Release & Transform

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

by Sierra Busch and Frances Reid

One of my favorite things about my job is discovering unique traditions in Italy that I’ve never heard of. One I find particularly interesting is the Fanòve festival, which takes place in Castellana Grotte in the southern region of Puglia, Italy at the beginning of the new year.

I’ve written a whole blog post about it here, but essentially, it’s a ritual of transformation that involves burning things from the past that they want to release. They build bonfires so big that they need ladders to reach the top, then they light them up and celebrate around it all night!

The practice actually dates back to the Dark Ages when the town’s patron saint told them to burn all their belongings, liberating them from the bubonic plague.

a crowd gathered around a giant bonfire in a piazza in italy which has just been lit
an enormous pile of sticks and logs dusted with snow in an italian piazza with cloudy skies
two huge bonfires at night with an old italian building in the back

Though I haven’t yet experienced this unique New Year's tradition in person, I did experience a total transformation while living in the village where it takes place. I let go of the past and turned my full attention to my inner vision and creating the future I wanted. I fully believe in the power of the Fanòve, and in general, the power of taking time to let go of things from the past year that will not serve your goals for the next. Burn the things that are plaguing you– literally.

As this year comes to a close, I want to share my method for starting a new year with purpose. It’s inspired by the transformational New Year's tradition of the southern Italian Fanòve festival but mingled with my very organized, go-getter, goal-oriented mind that just can’t stop dreaming. So grab a notebook and a cappuccino, turn off distractions, and dive in!

Woman sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Amalfi Coast in Italy

Step 1: Reflect. If you chose a word or a theme for the past year, how did it play out and show up? If you didn’t, what word might come up as you look back on the year? You might choose to think back to each month and jot down some highlights and challenges you remember about that time.

How do you feel about the past year? Does reflecting on it make you feel proud and accomplished, or do you feel sad or disappointed by another year where you missed the mark? Be honest but gentle on yourself. The point of this New Year's tradition is to lock in the year's lessons to help you go further in the coming year.

in a stone village in italy at night, a crowd stands around a huge pile of sticks and logs. a ladder is leaned up against this bonfire and someone at the top is lighting it

Step 2: Burn baby, burn! What really sucked about this year? Imagine you're participating in that Italian New Year's tradition and write down the things you would throw in the huge bonfire at the Fanove festival to transform into something new and positive. It could be a painful experience that you feel is holding you back in some way, or a habit that you know is keeping you from living a full and healthy life.

Perhaps it’s a harmful mindset that you know you need to change. What’s not serving you anymore now that you have the experience you do?

woman stands at railing overlooking Tuscan view of rooftops and fields in the distance with her eyes closed, face to the sky, and arms wide open

Step 3: Dream it up. Now that you know what you DON’T want in your life anymore, name what you DO want in your life in the coming year. Keep it simple or go bananas, it’s up to you, but be sure you write it down.

Close your eyes and imagine the coming year and how you’ll feel at the end of it having achieved the things you’re dreaming up. Think of a word or a theme that feels appropriate to set the tone for the coming year!

butterfly resting on a blue ring on a hand with an open journal on her lap and teal water at her feet

Step 4: Systemize it. This is the secret-weapon step that most people miss. One of my biggest lessons I've learned in doing this exercise is that we’re only as good as the systems that we’re keeping. If you want to lose weight, you make a plan (a “system” if you will) for keeping track of what you’re eating and how often you’re exercising, right? If you stop using the system, you’re very likely not going to lose the weight. Why do we think other goals are any different? Simply stating that you want to save up for a trip abroad this year does not make it happen. Words are not magic. But systems are!

The main idea is to work a moment into your daily or weekly routine for you to check in with yourself about how you’re doing towards that goal and adjust your system if it’s not working.

I recently decided I wanted to be working in more of the things that bring me joy in my everyday life as well as things that make me healthy and cultivate better relationships with those I care about. I made a list of those things and I give myself a point for each one that I did that day. There’s no goal for how many points I should get. Simply bringing awareness to it is enough for me and keeps me from beating myself up about yet another thing I’m not being perfect at.

Also consider making a Sunday afternoon checklist of all the things you need to do in order to have a productive and successful week. Some things on mine are writing out my top 3 priorities for the week, checking my calendar so I’m aware of upcoming meetings, clearing off my computer’s desktop so I have a clean and clear start, and pre-planning social media posts so it doesn’t interrupt the middle of my work day.

Designing a simple but effective system to keep you accountable and focused goes a long way!

4 men and one woman in hiking clothes hold their wine glasses up while smiling, rolling hills of Sicily and wildflowers are in the background

Founder Sierra with CET partners in Sicily after a 5 hour hike that ended at a scenic winery!

It’s been an adventure over the last year expanding this awesome community of travelers, growing my business, and fully embracing my expertise so I can be an even better travel resource for you guys. 

Take a moment to be inspired by the unique New Years tradition in Italy, the Fanove. Celebrate your transformations, big and small, over the last year. Maybe even take a page from our Italian friends, and set fire (small fires, let’s not burn anything important down) to leave behind anything that didn’t serve you well.

I’m excited to share more authentic Italian experiences with you next year!

Here’s to new adventures in a new year! 

Comment below on what you’re most excited about for the coming year and something you’re glad to leave in the past.

Creative Edge Travel offers small group and custom trips to the lesser-known areas of Italy. Visit our Upcoming Trips page to see where we’re headed next!

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Great philosophy Sierra! It’s wonderful traditions like Fanove which far too many people take for granted in the modern world of unsolicited electronic information overload.

My life was a mess until I went bush in outback Australia and learned to let go of certain negatives (or burn them Fanove style!) and understand what I DON’T want in my life.

Unlike yourself and your clever systems philosophy, I have never been a planner, system follower or list maker … far from it. I allow myself to be open to the mystery and wonder of what comes next. The fun and frivolity of it suits my personality and allows amazing people to gravitate into my world to come along for the ride.

Sierra Busch
Sierra Busch
Jan 05, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for this wonderful comment, Steve! It's wonderful to hear that by routinely "burning the baggage" you've managed to create space for joy and adventure in your life and your relationship. Congratulations to you both :) Thanks for sharing!

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