Before my trip to Genoa I downloaded a guide to Christmas events taking place in the city from the official tourism site for the city. To say it was comprehensive was an understatement. I decided to save some trees and save it to my phone to carry rather than opt for paper, and perhaps this was just as well.
Partly due to my limited Italian, but mostly due to the sheer volume of events listed, I found it hard to tell what might be an item of cultural significance from what was a few stalls erected to capture a slice of the festive market, and so I nearly missed the Confeugo.
I was down in the Porto Antico when I spotted a woman in a historical outfit, and in watching her for a moment or two spotted others in similar garb chatting together in small groups. Moving in their direction I found a group of younger citizens in matching blue and white outfits carrying large square flags.
Their general direction of travel seemed to be towards Piazza Ferrari so I hurried ahead of them in case they were going to make some sort of spectacular entrance. On arrival there were crowds building outside the Doge’s palace and a band setting up (also costumed). By pure chance I’d happened on an annual event which dates back to the 14th Century, and probably much earlier.
As far as I can tell the history of the event is for the local populace to pay tribute to their lord and master (the Doge back in 1339, nowadays the Mayor) each Christmas. Traditionally the Abbot of The People presented a laurel tree decked in red & white ribbons (representing the Genoan flag) to the Doge, who in act which seem particularly lacking in gratitude set the tree alight. Unfazed by this the locals would vie to get an ember or two to take home for good luck.
When Napoleon took control of the city in the late 18th century he put an end to the tradition, but it was revived in 1923 by an association who aimed to preserve and restore local traditions, and today it is a representative of that association who represents the people.
The term Confeugo confuses me though. At first I misread it as Confuego, a Spanish term meaning “with fire”, appropriate enough, and given the fluid nature of alliances and borders throughout Genoa’s history a little spagnolo would not be out of place, but my not so handy festival guide was clear that this was the Confeugo. The word doesn’t appear in my Italian reference guide, but break it down into con + feugo and you get “With focus”. I’m none the wiser.