Strenua

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Strēnĭa or Strēnŭa was a deity of the Roman religion-of Sabine origin according to some classical authors-a symbol of the new year, prosperity and good luck.

According to Varro and Festus, an altar (sacellum) and a sacred grove (lucus) on the Via Sacra in Rome were dedicated to the goddess. She is included among the indigitamenta, a list of Roman gods kept up to date by priests to ensure the right deity was called during public rites, by W.H. Roscher. At her shrine, the Argei’s procession got going. Some academics argue that the Strenua cult is where the Befana tradition originated.

According to Quintus Aurelius Symmachus:

“From almost the beginning of Mars’ city the custom of New Year’s gifts (strenae) prevailed on account of the precedent of king Tatius who was the first to reckon the holy branches (verbenae) of a fertile tree (arbor felix) in Strenia’s grove as the auspicious signs of the new year.”

Rev. John J. Blunt writes in his book Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily (John Murray, 1823):

“This Befana appears to be heir at law of a certain heathen goddess called Strenia, who presided over the new-year’s gifts, ‘Strenae,’ from which, indeed, she derived her name. Her presents were of the same description as those of the Befana—figs, dates, and honey. Moreover her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotous, and licentious character”.

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