Friday, 6 January 2012

La Befana

Danilo Rizzuti /

Today, most Italian children wake up to find their "Christmas stockings" filled with chocolate and small gifts. But it's not Santa Claus who is bringing the gifts - it's La Befana. And who is La Befana? She is an old woman (a witch) riding on a broomstick (so she can travel around all of Italy with the gifts, maybe?)

According to old beliefs La Befana was an old woman who was visited by three wise men who had trouble finding their way to Bethlehem. They stopped by her house to ask for directions, but unfortunately she could not help them. She gave them shelter for the night and the next day they went on to find baby Jesus, inviting her to come with them. She refused the offer, but changed her mind when they had gone on. So she set out to try to find them - without any luck. And so she is still going around searching for Jesus and the three wize men. And on her way she gives gifts, chocolates and fruits to the well behaved children while the bad ones have to make do with coal, onion and garlic ..... Most Italian children, in addition to candy, also get a small piece of (candy) "coal" in the stocking, since they sometimes have "forgotten" to behave themself the previous year.

La Befana is celebrated throughout Italy, she has become something of a national symbol. It is thought that the home of La Befana is a place in the region of Le Marche called Urbania and every year they celebrate a festival in honour of La Befana. The Post Office in the city even has a special mailbox for letters addressed to her. This is because many children in Italy write their wish lists to Befana just like children other places in the world write letters to Santa Claus. In addition to the festival in Urbania you'll find a "Christmas market" in Piazza Navona in Rome that is open between Christmas Eve and La Befana. Here you can buy candy to put in the stockings. 

When this day is over, Christmas has come to an end. So now I'm going to put away il presepe (the Nativity scene) and everything else that reminds me of Christmas. Now the new year can really begin! 

Buona Epifania to everybody! 

PS. Click here to read Norwegian Food illustrated's posting about La Befana.


New Life in Spain said...

Så gøy å lese om! I spania er det de tre vise menn som gjelder den 6 januar, og ingen julenisse. (eller heks hehe) Godt nytt år!

Unknown said...

How nice! I love to lean about the customs of other countries. Thanks for sharing!

erleichda said...

i read about it a Serenas also.
its so interesting to see how similar and still how different some traditions are...

A Foreigner in Italy said...

demie: I know about the tradition in Greece where the priest is throwing a cross in the sea and then some brave men jump in the water to see who is the lucky one to find it...

I have to say that I prefer getting chocolate from La Befana instead of having to swim in freezing cold water to find the cross... ;-)

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